The leaders of a Creighton University sexual assault policy committee acknowledge that their school needs to provide more education on the topic and that Creighton’s wording on consent should be clarified.

Creighton formed the committee last school year after two reported cases of sexual assault.

Catherine Todero, a chairwoman of the committee, said Creighton’s 19-page policy on harassment, discrimination and sexual and relationship misconduct should be easier to navigate.

The 26-member committee has asked to resume its work in the coming school year and expects that request to be granted.

“We realize there is work left to do,” said Todero, Creighton’s dean of nursing. “There was a lot to look at and review.”

Sexual assault has been a prominent topic at Creighton and many other universities across the country.

A 2015 survey of 27 universities and more than 150,000 students indicated that 23.1 percent of female undergraduates experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct under force, threats or incapacitation.

“Studies have shown that campus sexual assault is all too prevalent at colleges and universities,” said Thomas Harnisch of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Harnisch said campus leaders across the country are increasing prevention efforts and support services.

Six years ago the federal government determined that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs, should include acts of sexual violence.

“I would say that the problem has been around for a long time and the Obama administration really used its platform to expose the issue of campus sexual assault,” Harnisch said.

Maurice Watson, a basketball star at Creighton for two years, was accused in February of sexually assaulting a fellow student. The case is expected to eventually go to trial.

In another incident, a Creighton student early this year wrote an Internet blog saying she had been sexually assaulted in a residence hall in November and contended she received no satisfaction or justice from campus investigators or administrators. The woman, who graduated in May, asked others to contact Creighton’s president, the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, and demand a better policy on consent and more training so students and others understand what consent means in sexual relations.

Hendrickson said Creighton followed its procedures in the case, but he formed the committee.

The 22-year-old woman said it would be a good idea to provide more education on the matter to Creighton students.

“I hope they do it,” said the woman.

She said she declined to push for criminal charges against the man, whom she knew, because she had trusted the university to handle the matter appropriately.

David Weber, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the Creighton School of Law, said the panel wants to clarify the definition of consent.

“It felt a little bit like legalese,” said Weber, a co-chairman of the committee. “So we’re trying to make it more straightforward.”

One portion of the current policy defines consent this way: “Effective consent is informed, freely and actively given, and consists of mutually understandable words or actions indicating a willingness to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”

The committee also recommends that education and training for students and others at the university be given beyond Welcome Week at the first of the school year.

Todero said students receive huge amounts of information during Welcome Week. It would make sense to formally review the sexual assault policy with them from time to time during the year, she said.

One student who helped organize a Yes Means Yes rally this year at Creighton, a private Jesuit university, said last week she was encouraged by the committee’s work.

Stef Zielke, who will be a junior in August, said she knows sexual assault is a major issue at universities nationwide.

The committee’s suggestions are “a really good steppingstone, a really good place to start,” said Zielke, of Eagan, Minnesota. Zielke was not on the committee.

The panel reviewed other universities’ policies and listened to various speakers, including Julie Miceli, a former federal Department of Education official and Title IX expert.
Todero said the committee also drafted a preamble to the policy that reflects Creighton’s status as a Jesuit institution. It emphasizes healthy relationships and respectful choices.

When finalized, the university should make the policy or definition of consent readily available across campus through posters and other means, said committee member Rachel Lee, who recently graduated from Creighton with a law degree.

Lee also said the appeal process isn’t clearly described in the current policy.

Todero and Weber said they were surprised to learn in their committee work how many resources already are available.

The Creighton Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, for instance, provides confidential assistance, advocacy and support programs. One program in that center teaches bystander intervention in tense situations.

Todero and Weber expect to write a report this summer on the committee’s work and will submit it to Hendrickson.

Then they plan to resume their committee work in 2017-18.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123, twitter.com/rickruggles

Rick covers higher education for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @RickRuggles. Phone: 402-444-1123.

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