What comes next? How the university helps survivors

Posted on Oct 27 2016 - 8:01am by Lyndy Berryhill

 

Tracy Murry

Tracy Murry

Tracy Murry, director of the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, has worked at eight universities across the country for the past 21 years resolving student conduct issues.

“We’re the end of the process,” Murry said , sitting behind his desk.

If a student reports a Title IX violation the university is constrained by the Office for Civil Rights to complete the investigation and judicial processes within 60 days.

When an investigation report hits Murry’s desk, he gets the names of the students involved and sets up a debriefing meeting around their class schedules.

Murry said he does not look at who reported the offense or who is being accused until after he has met with everyone involved. He said this keeps him as objective and neutral as possible.

Both the complainant and respondent have a right to request a Skype meeting in lieu of meeting each other face-to-face. These meetings can be less intimidating for many survivors of sexual assault. Nine in 10 female college survivors of rape and sexual assault knew their offender, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Murry said not all students want to or are ready to face their harasser or assailant, so his office makes the process easier.

Because he deals with students and student organizations who could easily be in their first encounter with any judicial board, he keeps the meetings informative.

“I try to put their mind at ease,” Murry said. “I try to establish what to expect from the process.”

Murry said the board is akin to an academic review board in the sense that they are there for all students involved.

The board is made up of three members: one student and two faculty or staff. The conduct office keeps a pool of faculty, staff and students to choose from in order to ensure an objective board that can accommodate everyone’s schedules.

“The reality is that we usually have to go out and ask people,” Murry said of recruiting new conduct board members.

His office sends out emails to let faculty and students know they can apply to be advisers. Once they express interest, they must complete training. If a faculty member has also been an adviser during the process before, the university will ask that person to serve.

Currently the pool is 12 members deep, but Murry said he wants to grow that number to at least 18 to 20 members.

The conduct training lasts four to five hours and includes an overview of the process and briefing on Title IX. Trainees also go through violence prevention training.

Many people have reservations about the Title IX board because it requires longer training than other campus boards, and people do not always want to deal with the emotional stress that comes with it.

“It is important to have this process in place, but when you’re going through it is emotionally draining,” Murry said. “What you’re seeing in those cases and in a lot of other cases is people suffering.”

A lot of the more serious Title IX violations are hard on the people involved in the process, according to Murry.

Murry said the sanctions imposed by the office usually use a restorative justice perspective in most conduct cases to make it a learning experience for the offender as well as give closure to the complainant. In most Title IX cases, the board has to tread lightly.

The conduct board evaluates what the complainant feels he or she lost and tries to work out a solution with both students .

However, in sexual assault or sexual battery cases, the board does not impose restorative justice because it would place the survivor in contact with someone who has shown violence. 

“You have to decide how helpful [restorative justice] is,” Murry said. “You don’t want to hurt the victim again by having them involved in a process they don’t want to be involved in.”

Unlike the U.S. justice system, where a student would have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the student conduct office’s decision deems a student guilty with 51 percent of evidence .

Murry said he prefers to have a 3-0 decision on sanctions and encourages the board to thoroughly talk out the sanctions to find an appropriate punishment.

Murry also said one of the most challenging aspects of working with the Title IX and student conduct process is that it can make him less optimistic about people.

“I feel like [the process] is important enough that I feel that I’m helping people, or I’m helping people by going through that process,” Murry said.

Murry said having a daughter who is in her senior year of high school has made him more conscious of the dangers students face on campus.

Murry tells friends who ask where his daughter is attending college, “She doesn’t want to go to any school I’ve worked at… in her mind, the only thing that happens on campus is drugs, alcohol and sexual assault.”