By Joan Tabachnick
As schools have worked to improve their responses to campus sexual assault and misconduct, some have increased their use of transcript notation ― putting a statement on the academic record of a student found responsible for a sexual misconduct violation. But, there is little information about how transcript notations are used by the originating school or a receiving school. And, there is no consistent practice for how colleges and universities are notified or learn about the on-campus presence of a student, faculty or staff member who is a registered sex offender. How a campus is notified of this information and what they do with this information — how it is shared with students, faculty, staff — varies among jurisdictions and individual institutions.
To date, there has not been a national survey to assess how campuses use transcript notations or access sex offender registry information to increase campus safety. As part of a project on campus-based sexual misconduct prevention, SMART Office fellows asked colleges and universities across the United States about information sharing on 1) students found responsible for violating campus sexual misconduct policies and 2) registered sex offenders who attend classes, work or live on campus. SMART fellows received responses to the questionnaire from over 150 individuals from both public and private institutions. Here is what they shared:
Information sharing and transcript notation. The vast majority of participants said their college/university had policies in place to share information internally about individuals who violated sexual misconduct policies, such as with housing and campus safety offices, but not with other higher education institutions. Transcript notation was less common. About a quarter of participants said that their campus had issued a disciplinary notation on an academic transcript for a sexual misconduct policy violation; over half of participants said that their college/university did not issue transcript notations and the remaining quarter of participants were unsure.
Campus re-entry. A quarter of participants said their school had accepted a student with a previous sexual misconduct violation, another quarter said they had not, and the remainder were unsure. Few participants said that their institution had a written policy about incoming students previously sanctioned for a sexual misconduct violation; most said their campuses do not track these students.
Post-sanction. Only a third of participants said that their college/university tracks whether the students found responsible for sexual misconduct remain in school or graduate, and about a third said that their campus tracks whether victims/survivors remain in school or graduate. About half of participants indicated that their college/university tracks whether students previously found responsible violate the sexual misconduct policy again.
Student, faculty or employee as a registered sex offender. Nearly half of participants said that in the past five years, their institutions had received information about a registered sex offender who was either enrolled or employed by that institution. Most frequently, institutions learned this from a self-report by the individual on the registry or from local law enforcement. Very few had heard about a registered sex offender on their campus from the outside community, media or another institution of higher education. When a campus program had accepted a student listed on the sex offender registry, about half of participants said their campus officials had met with campus stakeholders to address community safety planning; more than a third of participants said that campus officials had met with the student to develop an individual safety plan.
Challenges to/resources for information sharing. When discussing challenges, participants said it would be helpful to have guidance on best practices for—
- Sharing information and what to do with that information;
- Establishing a common understanding of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act;
- Ensuring that all offices on a college/university campus follow the same practices; and
- Determining what information institutions need to ask about an incoming student who might be at risk to cause harm.
When asked about the most important topics or resources needed by campuses, participants suggested the following:
- Information about campus sexual assault perpetration and evidence-based interventions and prevention strategies for students accused of sexual misconduct;
- Sample information-sharing memoranda of agreement/understanding with local law enforcement;
- Risk assessment tools for incoming students with a history of sexual misconduct perpetration;
- General campus safety planning; and
- Prevention strategies to prevent future sexual misconduct.
The responses from this questionnaire indicate that policy and practice information could be developed to share across campuses as guidance. Moreover, further study and input from campuses and experts in the field may help identify the continuing challenges in sharing information about students found responsible for sexual misconduct policy violations and registered sex offenders on campus ― and help establish best practices to do so.
Joan Tabachnick, SMART fellow, is a nationally recognized expert on sexual abuse perpetration prevention. Her work has involved sexual violence prevention, child sexual abuse prevention and bystander intervention.