On Feb. 20, JMU released a statement listing six new efforts to be implemented in regard to sexual misconduct. The statement was released after Erin Coogan, SGA Senator and a senior public policy major, filed a Bill of Opinion. Coogan proposed the bill, which passed on Feb. 25, in an attempt to increase the clarity and openness of JMU’s Title IX procedures after she experienced a Title IX case involving a professor’s unwanted sexual behavior.
Vice President of Student Affairs Tim Miller said he’d been working on the statement for 10 days before it was released but had been updating it as time went on. The actual efforts, he said, have been in the works since he began working at JMU 18 months ago. Miller said he’s been working with organizations such as Students Against Sexual Violence, SGA and faculty in The Well during this time. He said the university is constantly trying to better policies related to sexual misconduct, so some of the efforts have been in the works for a “long time” and some a “little less.”
“So then, the Bill of Opinion concept comes up, and we’re meeting with a new set of students, so we had Erin and SGA students in addition to the conversations I’m already having with SASV [Students Against Sexual Violence],” Miller said. “Then, we bring a new set of perspectives into those conversations that they have from experience. So, it’s really just adding more student voices to the process along the way.”
Miller said he and Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, had just met with Coogan and several members of SGA the night before the statement was released, and at this meeting, Coogan asked, “‘When are you going to put this in writing to the community?”
Miller said the statement was going to be released to the community regardless, but some pieces were added after the meeting that night.
“They influenced some of the content of [the bill] because of what they asked for,” Miller said.
Miller said that behind these efforts were himself, Students Against Sexual Violence, Heather Coltman, senior leadership at the university, Title IX, the prevention alliance, the health center and the counseling center.
Coltman said the new efforts have been under construction since she began working at JMU three years ago. She said she’s responsible for the faculty side of Title IX procedures, while Miller is in charge of the student side.
“We work very closely with each other,” Coltman said. “We are really, really committed to bonding the gaps together and really being the same face for these issues.”
Following Coogan’s introduction of her bill, she said she was “pleased” with the efforts. However, she said she feels it was a “misrepresentation” when the university said they’ve been working on these bills for an extended amount of time. Coogan said she believes this because the night before the statement was released, she was told by Coltman and Miller that the only actions that had been taken regarding these were the climate survey and the 24/7 counseling center number.
She said the university might have thought about such efforts as faculty training, but these thoughts didn’t become actions until recently. Coogan said she was told that the funds for this training were only secured at 3 p.m. earlier that day.
“It does address a lot of things that my bill is asking for, which is great, but this seemed proactive like the students didn’t ask for this, but I had had multiple private meetings with different administrators,” Coogan said. “I think it mischaracterizes the urgency of the situation and also that they really did nothing until they knew I was going to be public about it.”
However, Miller said when Coltman started her position at JMU three years ago, she had asked about faculty Title IX training. He said she was told that faculty receive training immediately when they arrive at the university and then they don’t undergo training again, so she wanted to change this.
“We are constantly tweaking and refining our processes where we see that there's a gap, but we see that there's something that we could strengthen,” Coltman said. “So, these new policies are in broad conversation with all the way up to senior leadership.”
Miller said these efforts are in union with the concept of prevention. He said he feels sexual misconduct cases should never happen in the first place, but they still do. Additionally, he said the issue isn’t going away, so there’s a responsibility to continue to work on the issue of sexual misconduct.
“I don't think that as a university, we should be trading statements back and forth with students,” Miller said. “I think our students deserve an opportunity to sit in a room with us and talk about what's on their mind and what they care about, and I think most times, they find we care about the same things.”
Contact Carley Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.