Reporting led by journalists at The Salt Lake Tribune helped spur major reforms at Utah colleges and universities this past year. Administrators and policy makers are now rethinking how allegations of sexual assault are handled on college campuses.
The Salt Lake Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize this week for what Pulitzer judges referred to as a string of vivid reports revealing the perverse, punitive and cruel treatment given to sexual-assault victims at Brigham Young University.
Julie Valentine is an assistant professor at BYU’s College of Nursing and a sexual assault nurse examiner. She says BYU was already making changes amid mounting national focus on Title IX, the federal law that holds colleges and Universities responsible for dealing with sexual assault and harassment on campus.
“But they were somewhat simmering…I equate it to building a house on shifting sands. But when those stories came forward, it really put everything in a pressure cooker,” Valentine says.
This fall BYU made sweeping changes to their reporting polices. Most notably they decided alleged victims of sexual assault would be granted amnesty for Honor Code violations.
State Representative Angela Romero sponsored a bill this year that requires colleges and universities have a confidential advocate for victims. She hopes it will lead to more victims coming forward.
“Something I’d like to explore in the future is how do we ensure that people have the right tools in identifying what is sexual assault? And talking more about what consent is because I think a lot of this could be prevented,” Romero says.
The Utah System of Higher Education enacted a policy in January that requires colleges and universities work together to comply with Title IX requirements. It also requires they share information about students who’ve been disciplined for serious violations like sexual misconduct.