After reading dozens of students’ posts on social media about JMU’s handling of recent sexual misconduct cases, Jewel Hurt, the student body president, pushed for the implementation of an amendment to the student handbook. As a result, character statements will now only be used in the Sexual Misconduct Accountability Process after an individual has already been found responsible.
While changes to the student handbook are made annually, the Student Government Association formally addressed the change in a tweet due to the outcry of students on social media this past summer. Tim Miller, vice president of student affairs, sat down with Hurt and Desiree Edemba, student representative to the Board of Visitors, on Friday to finalize the change.
“Honestly, I felt like it was something that should’ve been done a long time ago,” Hurt said. “It’s just something that needed to be done and it needed to be done now.”
Cody Edwards, a senior musical theatre major, decided to organize a protest on campus after providing emotional support for several of his friends who experienced sexual assault. Over the summer, when one of his close friends decided she wouldn’t be returning to JMU this year due to the presence of her alleged attackers, Edwards knew something had to change.
He later announced on Facebook that he would organize a weeklong protest called Students for Change, set to take place during 1787 August Orientation. Edwards said he was tired of feeling helpless, so he decided to step up.
“It’s so frustrating because their lives are changed forever and then nothing happens to the assaulter,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot to swallow and it’s really frustrating and I think JMU can do better.”
Once he decided to follow through with the protest, Edwards intended to give the JMU community what he believed to be the best opportunity to make its voice heard and begin conversations with freshmen. Over 260 people expressed interest in the event on Facebook but as of Wednesday only a handful had participated in the demonstration.
According to Hurt, regardless of the number of people who participated in the protest, it’s important to realize the changing atmosphere on campus. She also agreed it’s time for JMU to take action.
“I think what we’re doing is great — we have to keep the dialogue going though,” Hurt said. “That’s what I hope won’t stop, now that we have the ear to the administrators let's use it and let's sit down at the table and lets come up with positive solutions moving forward.”
Miller acknowledged that sexual misconduct is a pertinent topic to students. He announced that he’ll be looking at policies in the handbook throughout the year and meeting with groups of students to get feedback on how to improve JMU as a whole.
“I think for me this is a chance to try something that students have felt passionate about and see if we can have a better process,” Miller said. “I believe very strongly as someone new but [as] someone at this institution, we have to continue to review how we do things and make sure we’re going them in the best way possible.”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.