When it comes to how colleges and universities deal with allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault on campus, there are many variations. Some colleges and universities engage with local law enforcement to conduct investigations, while others take an in-house approach; many do a combination of both. There are a wide variety of processes used by colleges and universities to establish the culpability of those accused of sexual assault and misconduct. How colleges and universities ultimately respond to students found responsible for sexual assault and sexual misconduct depends on the behavior, the campus policy, the number of reports against that individual, federal guidelines and much more. How colleges and universities share information about students found responsible for sexual misconduct — with campus and community partners, including law enforcement, and with other institutions — also differs significantly from campus to campus.
One practice colleges and universities use to share information about students found responsible for sexual misconduct on campus is transcript notation. In the past few years, this practice has become more common across the country, but is applied in a variety of ways. Two states, New York and Virginia, require institutions to issue notations on academic transcripts of students found responsible for violations involving sexual violence; in New York, schools are required to notate transcripts for violations of the school’s code of conduct concerning sexual violent offenses covered under the Clery Act; in Virginia, notation on a student’s transcript is required if the offense involving sexual violence is a violation under the institution’s code, rules or set of standards governing student conduct. In states where there is no legal mandate, some colleges and universities follow the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers guidance that colleges and universities should “provide some form of notice to receiving institutions when serious behavioral misconduct occurs.” The Association for Student Conduct Administration also provides guidance to its members on this issue and “recommends that all institutions place an appropriate notation on an academic transcript to indicate when a student is ineligible to re-enroll at that institution as a consequence of disciplinary action.” Despite this guidance, there is a dearth of information about how these transcript notations are used and if they are effective.
Separately, there is no consistent practice for colleges and universities to be notified or learn about the presence of registered sex offenders (student, faculty or staff) on their campus. These students, faculty or staff have been convicted of a sex offense in criminal courts and are required to register as a sex offender based on the seriousness of their conviction. How the college or university is notified of a registered sex offender’s presence on campus varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with many of the decisions about information-sharing left to the local jurisdiction. Many colleges and universities have some form of cooperative agreement or memorandum of understanding with their local law enforcement agency for information-sharing purposes. In some cases, a college or university may learn about a registered sex offender on campus because of media coverage. But what the college or university does with this information — how it’s shared with students, faculty and staff — varies significantly from one jurisdiction to another and among institutions.
The SMART Office is supporting college campus safety through campus-based sexual assault prevention initiatives. As part of these efforts, the SMART Office’s Campus Information Sharing and Response project aims to simply gather and assess information about campuses’ current transcript notation and registered sex offender information-sharing practices, how these practices are being implemented and the impact on all parties involved. The SMART Office plans to send a 15-minute electronic questionnaire to colleges and universities across the United States, via higher education associations, in February 2019.
This two-part survey will explore 1) current campus policies and practices regarding students found responsible for sexual misconduct and 2) information-sharing practices regarding registered sex offenders who attend classes, work or live on a campus. To date, there has been no national survey of how campuses are accessing or using sex offender registry information. The results will be anonymous, although a campus can share any existing policies and written practices for review. All identifying school information will be removed. No personal information regarding any student or event will be requested or collected, as only policies and procedures are being assessed. Further, as SMART is not collecting names or details of any alleged incidents of campus sexual assaults, such information will not be compiled in any way.
With this project, the SMART Office hopes to clarify the current policies and practices of colleges and universities regarding information sharing around registered sex offenders and transcript notation for sexual misconduct.