Long Island, NY - December 3, 2014 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the State University of New York (SUNY) has adopted a uniform sexual assault prevention and response policy for SUNY campuses. The comprehensive policy, which applies to more than 463,000 students attending all SUNY colleges and universities, is being disseminated today to each campus president and chief student affairs officers for implementation.
The policy is one of the first of its kind in the nation and will create a safer learning and living environment for students by outlining specific and consistent expectations of safety and responsibility.
“Today, SUNY is taking a critical step toward combating the epidemic of sexual violence and misconduct on our college campuses,” Governor Cuomo said. “By implementing a uniform sexual assault prevention policy, we are better protecting our students and our communities and setting an example for other states and schools to follow. I applaud the SUNY Board and Chancellor Zimpher for their leadership on this issue and their continued commitment to fighting for New York’s students.”
The uniform SUNY sexual assault policy is a result of a resolution passed by the SUNY Board of Trustees on October 2, 2014 response to Governor Cuomo’s request to create a comprehensive system-wide uniform set of practices to combat sexual assaults on college campuses. The policy was drafted over the past two months in consultation with SUNY leadership and working groups of internal and external stakeholders.
In addition to announcing the policy, the Governor also today launched a new website that provides important information regarding sexual assault prevention and response on college campuses in a user-friendly format for students, parents, administrators and law enforcement. Specifically, the website provides resources for students to learn how they can protect themselves and seek help when necessary, and access data regarding all sexual assault and violent crimes reported on all college campuses that operate in the State of New York. The data is reported to the United States Department of Education. The website can be accessed at the website.
SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said, “The State University of New York now has the most comprehensive, victim-centered set of sexual assault policies at any college campus or system of higher education in the country. Thank you to our stakeholders on campuses and in communities across New York who informed our discussions and ultimately shaped the final policies and victim/survivor Bill of Rights. I am confident that this will enhance SUNY’s capacity to more effectively address incidents of sexual assault and ensure the safety of our students.”
SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said, “SUNY’s top priority is to protect our students and foster safe learning environments on our college and university campuses. These new SUNY policies are sound, consensus-driven, and comprehensive, and I commend Governor Cuomo and the Board of Trustees for setting SUNY on the important task of redefining its sexual assault policies and positioning our system to set a model for colleges and universities nationally.”
Lori Mould, President of the SUNY Student Assembly and a member of the Board of Trustees, said “SUNY students applaud the expeditious and comprehensive response by Governor Cuomo, the SUNY Board of Trustees, and Chancellor Zimpher in addressing the need for revised sexual assault policies that will span our campuses across the state. These policies were drafted not only with students in mind but with student input every step of the process. We are proud that SUNY will lead the way nationally in protecting students from what has become an all too often occurrence. I thank the Governor for working with SUNY to ensure these safeguards were put in place for our students so that we can focus on learning and becoming better prepared citizens for our state.”
Laura Dunn, J.D., Executive Director of SurvJustice, said, “As a victim and a lawyer, I am thoroughly impressed with the new SUNY policies regarding campus sexual assault. These policies are both compassionate towards survivors and compliant with federal law – a balance that too few college systems have struck to date. I anticipate these policies being a model for many college and university campuses moving forward.”
SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg said, “The SUNY Potsdam community is very proud of Governor Cuomo's announcement today that the State University of New York has established its first comprehensive statewide policy to combat college sexual assault. I am so honored to have been asked to serve on the working group alongside SUNY Potsdam senior Ryan Minsker, one of many Potsdam students who have stepped up to raise awareness about campus sexual assault. Student leadership and engagement will continue to be essential to implementation of these groundbreaking measures on every campus throughout the SUNY System.”
Dr. Steve Tyrell, President of North Country Community College and a member of the Working Group, said, “Higher education has made great strides in advancing best practices in policy development and effective implementation of procedures to address sexual violence over the past decade. Many of these practices reside at our colleges today. The policies and procedures developed by the working group reflects these best practices and that their future implementation will go far to advance the safety and well-being of our students across SUNY.”
All first-year and transfer SUNY students will be informed of the sexual assault policy, which can be found in full here. Key points of the policy include:
- Uniform Definition of Consent: The policy includes a system-wide, uniform adoption to define affirmative consent as a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. The uniform definition is as follows:
“Affirmative consent is a clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive. Silence or lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent. Seeking and having consent accepted is the responsibility of the person(s) initiating each specific sexual act regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not constitute consent to any other sexual act. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time. When consent is withdrawn or cannot be given, sexual activity must stop. Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated. Incapacitation occurs when an individual lacks the ability to fully, knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity. Incapacitation includes impairment due to drugs or alcohol (whether such use is voluntary or involuntary), the lack of consciousness or being asleep, being involuntarily restrained, if any of the parties are under the age of 17, or if an individual otherwise cannot consent. Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm.”
- Uniform Amnesty Policy to Encourage Reporting: Students reporting incidents of sexual assault or other sexual violence are granted immunity for drug and alcohol use violations.
- Comprehensive Statewide Training for Campus Police and College Administrators: SUNY, working with the State, will conduct statewide coordinated training with all SUNY campuses, including training by SUNY Police and State Police for campus security on best practices for campus security plans and victim sensitivity, as well as training by SUNY attorneys for college administrators and adjudicators on preventing and addressing sexual violence and how to improve compliance with existing federal laws. All SUNY campuses will also institute uniform training for students at all new student orientations. SUNY Police will begin training all campus police and public safety officers this month.
- Statewide Public Awareness Campaign: SUNY will undertake a statewide public awareness campaign, coordinated with the State, to increase awareness among college students, high school students, and parents of individual safety and prevention techniques as well as the importance of bystander intervention in any unsafe situation.
- Uniform Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol for All SUNY Campuses: To ensure all colleges are following best practices and the same set of standards and protocols are in place on each campus, all SUNY campuses will implement a uniform system-wide Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol. The uniform Confidentiality and Reporting Protocol encourages the prompt and accurate reporting of acts of sexual assault, helps the campus community to quickly respond to allegations of sexual assault, and ensures that students have timely and accurate information about available confidential resources.
- Uniform Campus Climate Assessments: All SUNY campuses will conduct campus climate assessments in order to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness of the issue, and provide colleges/universities with information to help them form solutions for addressing and preventing sexual assault on and off campus.
The SUNY sexual assault policy also creates a Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights that specifically informs victims of sexual assault of their right to report sexual assault to local, campus or State law enforcement. SUNY policy also outlines how to access campus-specific victim resources, including obtaining a restraining/no contact order and counseling, health, legal and support services. All students will be notified of the Bill of Rights by or before the new term in January 2015. The Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights includes the right to:
- Have disclosures of sexual violence treated seriously.
- Make a decision about whether or not to disclose a crime or incident and participate in the conduct or criminal justice process free from outside pressures from college officials.
- Be treated with dignity and to receive from College officials courteous, fair and respectful health care and counseling services.
- Be free from any suggestion that the victim/survivor is at fault when these crimes and violations are committed, or should have acted in a different manner to avoid such a crime.
- Describe the incident to as few individuals as practicable and not to be required to repeat unnecessarily a description of the incident.
- Be free from retaliation by the College, the accused, and/or their friends, family and acquaintances.
- Exercise civil rights and practice your religion without interference by the investigative, criminal justice or conduct process of the College.
The SUNY sexual assault prevention and response policy is the framework outlined by the Governor to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The Governor is committed to continuing to work to adopt the same standards legislatively for all of New York's colleges and universities.
Photo by Pat Arnow, via Wikicommons.