Missouri State University President Clif Smart says a new policy this year is intended to “deal with every conceivable allegation of sexual assault, sexual violence and sexual harassment” for faculty, staff, and students.
The MSU Board of Governors approved the Title IX Policy on Sexual Assault, Stalking and Other Forms of Sexual Misconduct in July. According to Smart, it brings the school’s existing policies together into one category, streamlines the investigation process, and outlines appeal rights in accordance with federal law.
Allegations that some universities have mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus have prompted criticism and calls for stricter enforcement. Smart says the heightened awareness of the issue, in part, is a good thing.
“By talking about this and by letting people know that this has in fact occurred all across the country in all types of college settings, I think it makes it- I hope it makes it easier for someone who’s been a victim of sexual assault to come forward and report what has happened. Because we can’t fix that unless we know about it,” Smart said.
Smart adds that he’s “always stunned” to hear of schools that allegedly tried to cover up cases of sexual assault on its campus or failed to report it.
“That’ll get you fired here. We take this very seriously and I am very confident that we are not ever gonna have a situation where the university administrators, faculty were aware of a significant sexual assault and tried to cover it up. That won’t happen here.”
The Cleary Act requires higher education institutions to publish statistics of various crimes, including sexual assault, that occur on campus, in certain off-campus buildings and on immediately adjacent to and accessible from campus. In 2012, the latest data available, there were nine reports of forcible sex offenses at MSU’s Springfield, West Plains and Mountain Grove locations, collectively. There was just one reported offense the previous year, and 10 in 2010.
While Smart acknowledges that one instance of sexual assault on campus is one too many, based on the numbers, he says the issue at MSU is “relatively small.” He recognizes, however, that there are likely more cases that haven’t been reported.
This semester marks the first year of the new policy. The new guidelines include a training program on sexual assault and the school’s regulations and responsibilities. Students were take the online course this summer, and will not be allowed to enroll in spring classes until the training has been completed. Smart says that in addition to that module, the university has established small group training with, among others, resident advisors and student athletes and coaches.
Smart notes that it’s difficult for officials, despite the reported statistics, to obtain a real grasp on the scope of sexual assault offenses. He hopes within the next year the school can develop a confidential survey for students on the issue.
“To try to figure out the magnitude of the problem and really the details of the problem and I think that will help us attack it better,” says Smart.