Originally posted on Chron.com
By Alyson Ward
COLLEGE STATION -- After students pushed for a change in June, Texas A&M University announced policy changes Monday designed to improve the way the university addresses sexual assault investigations.
The changes are effective immediately. Among them:
Texas A&M will streamline the process of reporting sexual misconduct, so that a complainant knows what will happen next and doesn't have to repeat the same story of trauma again and again to multiple staff members.
The university has created a set range of sanctions that clearly shows what will happen in each violation, whether it's a reprimand, probation, suspension or expulsion. An example: Students found responsible for sex-based violence and/or non-consensual penetration will be suspended for at least one full year. Students will be made aware of this chart that lays out the sanctions.
The dean of students, not a coach or an adviser, will decide which interim restrictions will be placed on a student who has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Counselors will be available at multiple points across campus, making them easier for students to find.
The decision about whether a student will be allowed to take part in extracurricular activities will be made when the investigation ends, not when the student returns from a suspension.
When a student is suspended, dismissed or expelled, a notation will be made on his or her transcript.
Two committees on campus and an external review firm have recommended several changes, officials said. The recommendations, they said, are designed to bring clarity and consistency to a process that students have called confusing, traumatic and inconsistent.
The university assembled an internal review committee of experts, including students who are sexual assault survivors, to analyze A&M's policies and Title IX processes - how the university handles assault accusations and how it communicates with victims.
A third-party review firm, Husch Blackwell, also scrutinized the university's policies and procedures.
The system has worked well in the vast majority of Title IX investigations, said Texas A&M president Michael Young, but the reviews this summer have shown that "it didn't work all the time and wasn't as supportive as it could be in ways."
In June, Texas A&M students put pressure on the university to impose stronger and more uniform sanctions after a student went public with her dissatisfaction on Twitter.
In a tweet that spread far and wide, a student complained that the varsity swimmer who assaulted her was back on the swim team after he'd been found responsible by the university's Title IX process. His punishment for assault was merely a one-semester suspension, she said - and he'd been granted an extra year of eligibility on the swim team.
Her tweet drew attention from fellow Aggies and prompted the university to review its system of dealing with assault.
"Our primary concern is the safety and ability for all members of our community to thrive on campus," said Carol Fierke, provost and executive vice president. "That's really our goal moving forward."
Alyson Ward is a metro writer for the Houston Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org