Changes regarding the handling of sexual misconduct incidents coming to JMU

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The U.S. Department of Education is working to improve regulations on how colleges should handle allegations of sexual misconduct.

JMU will be making adjustments to current policies, but also trying new things to help prevent sexual misconduct.

As a university that accepts federal funding, James Madison University must comply with those new regulations.

JMU said they've been collaborating with student leaders to strengthen the university's policies, prevention strategies, and resources offered relating to sexual misconduct.

"There are too many students that graduate from college, here and across the country, having faced an assault and something that changes their lives forever," Dr. Tim Miller, Vice President for Student Affairs at JMU, said.

Dr. Miller said many victims decide to not file a report with the police, but the university still strives to offer resources for students.

"My biggest concern is the number that goes unreported, the number of people that never get help, the number of people that live with this their whole lives that never get the support that they need. That's what I really want to focus on," Dr. Miller said. "If we can't prevent it, I want to make sure everyone gets what they need."

Dr. Miller said JMU will be implementing a new sexual violence prevention program for incoming students. Beginning in Fall 2020, first-year students with undergo interactive workshops focused on healthy relationships, exploring topics of healthy sexual and/or romantic relationships and consent in relationships.

The university will also be training an additional staff member to serve as a sexual violence survivor advocate in The Well, a Health Promotion and Well-Being Center on campus.

Also beginning Fall 2020, the university will be providing a 24/7 phone counseling service to all students.

Increasing Title IX training for faculty and staff is also on the agenda. This will build on the current training required of all new faculty and staff and also will include an annual training requirement.

"As rules change, laws change, as expectations change, we can be able to update that on an annual basis and if someone worked here 30 years, they might have taken this training 30 years and never been refreshed on that," Miller said. "I think this is too important of an issue to allow that to be the case."

In the 2020-2021 academic year, students, faculty and staff will be asked to participate in a campus-wide study regarding their beliefs and experiences related to various aspects of JMU culture, including all areas of diversity as well as sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination.

"The goal is for everyone to have a voice in this process," Miller said. "That tells you what the lived experience at JMU is. From there, they'll provide us with recommendations on what to do to make JMU a better place."

Miller said one sexual misconduct case at JMU is too many and he hopes the new changes coming to the university will decrease the number of victims and leave more students with a positive college experience.