University to reform sexual assault policies

Story by Amanda Grau, Staff writer, and Mary Bradley, Editor-in-Chief

President Bob Davies said students will likely have to take an online alcohol and sexual assault education program this fall as University officials seek to reform policies and procedures for handling sexual assault complaints.

Such changes could take effect as soon as the next academic year if approved by the Board of Regents. The board will take up the issue in its next two meetings in June and August.

Davies and administrators have spent much of this academic year informally reviewing policies and procedures related to Title IX – the federal law that governs how universities should handle discrimination and sexual assault cases.

The University has transitioned into a formal review, Davies said.

That formal review process will be similar to the creation of Murray State’s tobacco ban. University officials first will recommend to the regents in June the proposed revisions to the Title IX process.

At the following board meeting in August, the University will present the formal plan for the board to approve.

Davies said possible recommendations include the mandatory education programs for students as well as creating a sole investigator model for sexual assault cases.

Under that model, the University would designate one specifically trained person – either within the University or a contractor – to investigate allegations of sexual assault and pass a finding, as opposed to a judicial board hearing.

The ultimate goal of the University is to create as safe of an environment as possible for everyone in the community, Davies said. 

“The key thing not just as an institution, but as a community, is how do we work diligently to create safe environments?” Davies said. “As part of our review and in my mindset, we don’t want to have barriers (to someone) coming forward. We don’t want to have barriers of not reporting.”

This comes a week after The Murray State News reported that a student ultimately transferred from Murray State after being frustrated by the University’s process that continued for six months. The article also raised questions about a potential conflict of interest during that process. One of the administrators assigned to help the woman also was the adviser to the accused rapist’s fraternity.

That administrator, Mike Young, interim associate vice president of Student Affairs, responded to The News in an email this week saying he was not available for an interview.

Neither Davies nor the president of the fraternity would comment Thursday on whether Young remains the adviser of that organization.

Davies also could not comment on specific individuals or the sexual assault case reported by The News April 17.

Davies said Murray State’s process for handling sexual assault cases must be flexible enough to account for specific elements of every case. But no matter what, he said, the University must move as swiftly and as fairly as possible.

As part of that, the University also will work to make sure students involved in sexual assault cases to have support mechanisms in place.

“One of the things that we’re looking at and have been looking at is the support services as well as the organizational function of various models with Title IX coordinators and the like, and ensuring the communication between and among those individuals,” Davies said.