The University of West Florida is adding new guidelines to the Student Code of Conduct that address cases of alleged sexual or gender-based misconduct.
The new guidelines are based on recommendations from the federal government and designed to make the hearing process fairer to both the accusers and the accused.
“It’s a great step in the right direction and in being compliant with federal mandates,” Gentry McCreary, associate dean of students, said. “It’s beneficial to everyone, especially the student body.”
Under the new code, the University will bring in a neutral fact-finder to investigate charges of sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination against individuals or groups that is based on their gender.
After the investigation, a student charged with misconduct will have the right to have a confidential hearing before either a hearing officer or the Student Conduct Committee.
Both the victim and the accused are permitted to have one adviser and multiple witnesses at the hearing, and the university must prove that it is “more likely than not” that the accused violated the code of conduct.
A student found guilty of code violations may face sanctions from the university such as disciplinary probation, monetary fines or expulsion. Depending on the nature on the violation, the student may also face criminal charges, which are handled by police.
McCreary said that changes to the code of conduct are made every three years, and the new amendments are a reaction to federal recommendations, not problems on campus.
He said that in his experience, cases resulting in sexual misconduct hearings were infrequent.
“Certainly no more than I can count on one hand,” he said.
Aside from the new hearing procedures, the revised code of conduct also added prohibitions on drinking games, possession or use of items such as kegs and beer bongs, and possession of non-controlled substances such as spice and bath salts on campus
Spice and bath salts are synthetic drugs that have been reported to cause paranoia, hallucinations, aggression and thoughts of suicide. Many of these drugs are not illegal because they are labeled “not for human consumption.”
McCreary said the new code will give the university more flexibility in dealing with dangerous non-controlled substances that are not prohibited by law.
“It gives us much more leeway and lets us deal with any number of things, like students drinking cough syrup to get intoxicated,” he said.
Although several students said that they doubted the university could to enforce the new drug and alcohol policies, they approved of the reasoning behind them.
“I don’t think it will be effective, but I think it’s the right move,” Kevin Waisfeld, a senior with a double major of economics and political science, said. “If you don’t ban these things, it’s almost like saying you support them.”
Rachel Carpenter, a senior majoring in psychology, said the bans are a Band-Aid, not a solution, for substance abuse problems on campus.
“Just because you do something like this, it doesn’t mean the attitudes will change,” she said. “Instead of setting down rules, they could look at ways to change student behaviors.”
Anita Schonberger, deputy general counsel, will accept written questions and comments about the proposed amendments until March 1, after which the code of conduct will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for final approval.