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Improvements to discrimination and harassment policy focus of WSU forum

Two women discuss improvements to Executive Policy 15.
(Photo credit: Sarah Page, Division of Student Affairs) Holly Ashkannejhad, director of the Office of Civil Rights Compliance & Investigation, and Jhordin Prescott, vice president of ASWSU, discuss improvements to Executive Policy #15.

After nearly two years of careful analysis, collecting input, and crafting changes, Washington State University communities will get a close look at the improvements proposed for Executive Policy #15, the university’s policy pertaining to discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.

A forum highlighting Executive Policy #15, or EP-15 for short, will take place Monday, Dec. 2, 9-10:30 a.m., in the Compton Union Building Junior Ballroom. It will be livestreamed on YouTube.

The call to make EP-15 more “user friendly” was initiated by students across the WSU system. They felt the policy was cumbersome to read, difficult to understand and access. In 2017, WSU President Kirk Schulz directed then Provost Daniel Bernardo and Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president of Student Affairs, to develop a plan to improve WSU’s culture and climate. That led to the creation of five working groups, one of which focuses on EP-15.

“Because this effort was started by students for students, everything that has been accomplished ties back to that,” said Quinton Berkompas, president of the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) in Pullman. “A lot of work has gone into this and it is important for students to attend the forum to see how the policy will be more effective for them moving forward.”

The forum is a collaborative effort between the EP-15 working group, housed in the Division of Student Affairs, and the WSU Office of Civil Rights Compliance and Investigation (CRCI). The working group is led by co-chairs Judi McDonald, past chair of the Faculty Senate and associate dean of the Graduate School, and Brandon Chapman, director of marketing and communications for the College of Education.

Striving for clarity

Holly Ashkannejhad, director of CRCI, said the forum will discuss the EP-15 working group’s charge, CRCI’s role in the process, the specific updates made to the policy, and the various ways people can file a complaint.

Part of the discussion will focus on factors to consider in relation to violations of the policy that often confuse students. Factors include the severity and frequency of a violation, the status of the reporting and responding parties and their relationship to each other, whether there have been physical threats or endangerment, and whether the conduct could reasonably be considered protected speech.

“Some students think if the conduct is more nuanced, subtle or involves a high-level person or administrator, and where physical evidence may be lacking, they can’t come to our office,” Ashkannejhad said. “We want to make it clear that all complaints are welcome and taken seriously, and CRCI provides a caring and supportive environment for participants.”

A collective effort for change

Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and inclusive excellence in the Division of Student Affairs, said there has been a tremendous spirit of willingness among colleagues, students, and departments to help improve this policy.

The result is a transformation of EP-15, and of all the people who have worked on it, that will have a big impact on the prevention of discrimination and sexual harassment. Having been involved with this kind of work for 25 years, Nolan feels incredibly hopeful and inspired by what has transpired.

“The amazing process that our five working groups have been engaged in, and the impact they’ve made thus far, involves not just one office or one group, but all of us,” Nolan said. “That’s how we make long-lasting and meaningful change.”

Ashkannejhad said the collaborative model reinforces the notion that work on campus climate and culture is everyone’s responsibility at the university. As such, the role and requirements of departments are now articulated in the updated policy.

Berkompas said getting to this point has not been easy or quick, but the improvements to the policy have been well worth the wait. Being intimately involved with the process, student leaders like Berkompas have the opportunity to see how policies are shaped and transformed to better meet the needs of the people.

“For Civil Rights laws in general, the power of the people to change the direction of those laws has been a consistent theme over time,” Ashkannejhad said. “It’s exciting that our students get to be part of it.”

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