JMU students are meeting with Tim Miller, the JMU vice president of student affairs, to discuss how the university handles sexual misconduct cases. So far, not many students have met with Miller despite the large online support for changing JMU.
Miller, a JMU alumnus (’96), realized after returning to JMU that he no longer knew the place he once called home. He decided to host as many of these meetings as necessary to speak with every student who wished to share their thoughts or experiences. Students who want to participate can sign up online with a Google Form.
“I find that every student that’s critical of JMU is critical because they want it to be an even better place,” Miller said. “I come to them with that same love of this place and wanting to make it better.”
Eric Kaufmann, a senior political science major, is the Student Government Association’s chair of the legislative action committee. He signed up for a meeting to talk with Miller and also to hear other students’ ideas and perspectives, but he was the only one who signed up for Miller’s Monday meeting.
The size of the meeting was surprising to Kaufmann, given the online support to amend JMU’s sexual misconduct policy. Kaufmann feels some students may post their thoughts online, but won’t take the time to make actual change through these meetings.
“It’s not every day that you get a chance to meet with a senior vice president,” Kaufmann said. “So if you truly want to make a difference at James Madison University and really make an impact, then go to these meetings, let Dr. Miller hear about your experiences and how you think we can better ourselves as a university."
SGA pushed for these meetings and has advocated for changes to JMU’s sexual assault policies. Some proposals include setting a time restraint on the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices’ investigations, having qualified professionals at hearings and stricter punishments for students found responsible.
Jewel Hurt, a senior political science and public policy double major, is the student body president. Hurt explained that JMU’s decision to move character statements to after a student is found responsible is a step she’s proud of. She hopes JMU will not only make the rest of the changes SGA recommended, but will also become a role model for other schools by hearing innovative ideas from students.
“I would love to see us be a forerunner and do things that other colleges and universities aren’t even thinking of to help protect survivors and to create a better process for everyone involved,” Hurt said.
Miller has set a limit of 10 people per meeting. Miller also acknowledged that some students, particularly survivors, may feel uncomfortable sharing in a group setting. Those people can email him at email@example.com to request an individual meeting. He’s opted out of doing a town hall because he finds them to be ineffective in hearing individuals.
“By sitting in a room with 10 students … I can hear every single student’s voice in that room which I won’t hear in a big room with 500,” Miller said. “If it means I’m going to hold 50 meetings and spend 75 hours on this, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Representatives from Students Against Sexual Violence, a student coalition advocating against sexual assault, will soon meet with Miller. Kearstin Kimm, the media liaison for SASV, is a junior computer science major. Kimm recognizes that despite widespread support for change online, not many students are signing up to speak with Miller.
“If you care about these things and you care about survivors and you want to see a change in JMU, you have to be an active participant in the conversation,” Kimm said. “It’s so easy to just say things on Twitter but actually being in person and having someone listen to you and want to help, is just an opportunity that you can’t really pass up.”
Kimm is excited to meet with Miller and wants to keep the line of communication open with administration. She explained that Miller’s behavior is a shift from last spring when SASV was the one asking to meet with faculty.
After very few students attended the Students for Change protest, Kaufmann feels this is an important time for students to take action and speak out. He expressed that administrators want to assist in this change, but that student perspectives are crucial in making it into a reality.
“I think it’s a necessity that students go to these meetings,” Kaufmann said. “Dr. Miller has made himself very available in ways that I think a lot of other university officials at other universities wouldn’t. The fact that students have this opportunity, they have to take it if they’re serious about being the change.”
Contact Jessica Kronzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.