SOCIAL ISSUES

Report prompts changes to Rutgers sexual harassment policy

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

On the Rutgers Campus in New Brunswick Thursday, students took advantage of the warm early autumn weather, most likely oblivious to the changes occurring around them as the state’s largest university took a big step toward updating its sexual harassment policy, just hours after a report by NJ Advance Media showed the university failed to investigate claims of sexual harassment that were older than two years, or the standard statute of limitations. Susan Livio wrote the story with Kelly Heyboer.

“What really surprised us was that there was a group of university professors who had sort of seen it all, been through it all, and they were willing to come forward and challenge the university,” Livio said.

On behalf of former students from the late ’90s and early 2000s who – as the #metoo movement was exploding – came forward with their stories, only to be met by a shrug from university officials.

“And they really wanted to be heard, they felt energized, and these professors were aghast that Rutgers were not looking at most of their complaints.” She continued, “The main reason being that the statute of limitations had been blown.”

Even though the university’s policy on the statute of limitations didn’t differ much from say the state Legislature’s recently updated policy, Rutgers President Robert Barchi took the surprising step of unilaterally changing it within hours of the report.

“As a university, we must constantly reassess our policies and procedures to make sure we are providing the best support and resources we can,” wrote Barchi in a letter to the university’s governing board, adding that he had ordered a review of the Office of Employment Equity policy. “While that review continues, today I directed that the investigatory policies of OEE be updated immediately to remove the reference to a two-year period for pursuing investigations.”

Livio said she was surprised at how quickly the university shifted gears.

“There were some students who thought, well, if that’s all it took, we need to get out here more and speak more because that’s going to get coverage and that’s going to make change,” she said.

News of the change spread through a student demonstration Wednesday night and at least some students Thursday were calling it a win.

“I know so many people who have complained about the counseling that they received after they got sexually assaulted, how the university totally dropped the ball in terms of that,” said Rutgers University senior Samantha Goldstein. “So I think it’s a good step in the right direction but there’s a lot that needs to be done.

Rutgers Junior Regina Hall said discussion of the policy was a net positive for students, male and female.

“It’s definitely created a more open dialogue to talk about sexual harassment on campus where maybe before it was kind of like a topic that people didn’t really want to address,” said Hall.

The OEE review will look at staffing levels and training as well as the overall university policy. Barchi said the review should be completed by the end of the month.