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Opinion

Sexual assault offenders at universities should be pointed out, but under correct circumstances

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December 14, 2016

Although sexual assault is unfortunately really common on university campuses, I personally have never really put a lot of thought into it. However, the other day I read an article that really made me stop and think.

The article by Fox 9 called “Colleges pushed to note sexual misconduct on transcripts” touches on states like New York and Virginia that require their universities to document expulsions and suspensions related to sexual assault on a student’s transcript.

It goes on to talk about a congresswoman in California, Rep. Jackie Speires, who introduced a bill earlier this month that would make the documentation a nationwide requirement.

Although I immediately became interested from the article’s title, it was this excerpt with the term “nationwide” that really made me stop and think about the idea in more detail. I asked myself, “How would I feel if our university began doing this?”

In order to attempt to formulate an opinion of my own, I did a little research and looked at the opinions of others.

The article notes that “opponents say such transcript notations would be unfair.” Their reasoning is that most of the time, court systems have nothing to do with the allegations; it’s the schools that deal with them. In addition to that, opponents have found that prosecutors usually choose not to press charges due to lack of evidence.

That makes complete sense to me. Before I explain why, I must note that I am not the type of person that downplays something because I have not experienced it. I can fully appreciate the severity of the problem, and I think that all reports should be handled with immediacy.

However, it would be unfair to ignore the fact that not all allegations are genuine. In fact, there are a great number of cases in the news where students claim they have been falsely accused. The CBS News article “Colleges slammed with lawsuits from men accused of sex crimes” says that there have been at least 75 cases since 2013 until this year where male students have sued their schools.

The article goes on to say something that mirrors the concern that was mentioned in Fox 9’s article.

“Most of the men were never charged, because authorities decided there wasn’t enough evidence.”

I can’t imagine someone being falsely accused, getting expelled and having the title of an offender follow them around while they pursue their education. Although incredibly serious as well, I feel like it would be one thing to be mistakenly accused of cheating, but to be falsely accused of sexual assault I feel would be debilitating to all aspects of one’s life (i.e. social, professional, personal).

Out of curiosity, I emailed our university’s Registrar’s Office and inquired about how they handle students’ transcripts.

I received an email from Kelly Browning. She provided me with two links, one for academic misconducts and one for nonacademic misconducts. The links are the two chapters that UW-River Falls follows regarding disciplinary procedures.

According to chapter UWS 14, some of the acts that fall under “academic misconduct” are plagiarizing, forging documents and damaging the academic work of other students.

According to chapter UWS 17, some of the acts that fall under “nonacademic misconducts” are sexual assault, dating violence and domestic violence.

At the end of the email, Browning said that when a student is suspended or expelled for any of these acts, it is in fact documented on a student’s transcript. However, the act itself isn’t distinguished, just the type of act it is.

Although great, when I really think about it, I don’t necessarily think that is enough. A “nonacademic misconduct” can be a fight, and there is a big difference between forcing sexual acts upon someone and punching them in the face.

All in all, I do believe that sexual misconduct is something that should be documented on a transcript. I think if a student who has received disciplinary action for sexual assault tries to apply to another institution, the note shouldn’t hinder the student’s ability for admission, but should serve as a way for the institution to be aware of who that student is.

To effectively do this, I think that universities should adopt policies and practice procedures, if they don’t already, that ensure complete accuracy of each allegation.