By Taylor Johnson and Olivia Ali
After multiple students filed allegations against a fraternity member, student and activist Dennise Mena founded a campaign to advocate for sexual misconduct protocol reform.
Founded in January 2019, Take Back the Pack is a student-led organization and campaign working to reform the university’s sexual assault case protocol and rape culture. Their goals include passing a university-wide motion and commitment to end rape culture on campus, reforming Student Misconduct policies to be more survivor-centered and increasing university funding for Title IX and other departments that provide resources to survivors and prevention efforts.
“…[T]he students of Take Back The Pack, are demanding that the University of Nevada, Reno begin to explicitly combat rape culture through actionable policy reform which address deficiencies in the current policies, procedures, and resources regarding sexual assault,” said Take Back the Pack’s Medium article. “This includes reframing current policies through a survivor-centered approach and defining the specific sanctions that would be taken against a student or faculty member should victims choose to report.”
The Sexual Conduct and Safety Service Survey found in 2016, 24 percent of female students said they have experienced sexual harassment, 13 percent of all respondents experienced sexual coercion and 8 percent of students experienced sexual assault.
In Take Back the Pack’s OurTurn Sexual Misconduct Report Card, the university received a 68.88 percent rating overall. Factors influencing the score included the scope, composition of review committee or decision makers, formal and informal complaint process and education.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life instituted a new policy in 2019 requiring students in Greek Life organizations to submit a report outlining incidents or conduct involving members using the ‘Chapter Standards/Judicial Report Form’ by the final day of classes each semester.
Professional counselors at the university are not required to report any information regarding an incident to a Title IX coordinator without students’ permission. If a student wants to maintain confidentiality, the university will not conduct a full investigation on the incident. If a student wishes to report to a “responsible employee”, a university employee who has the duty to report incidents of sexual violence or other student misconduct, responsible employees may only tell university faculty who handles sexual assault reports—this does not include law enforcement. If responsible employees want to keep a student’s identity confidential but wish to report the information given, the university will consider the request bit cannot guarantee it will honor the request.
Disciplinary sanctions for students found to violate Student Code of Conduct may receive the following: an oral or written warning, a written reprimand, restitution, probation, loss of privileges, discretionary and educational sanctions, no contact order, suspension, expulsion or the withholding of a degree.
“Whoever wrote our policies did not keep survivors in mind,” Mena said. “They did not say we want to write policies to encourage students to report. A lot of these things, we have policies around them but they aren’t in Student Conduct Policies, which means when a student is trying to understand what’s going to happen during the investigation and the hearing, this information isn’t available. We provide accommodations for survivors during hearing processes, but they aren’t outlined in there.”
Currently, Take Back the Pack is trying to pass resolutions through the Associated Students of the University of Nevada and through the Graduate Student Association, and is attempting to change NSHE language regarding sexual assault and misconduct.
The specific resolutions aiming to be passed through ASUN regard precedents for addressing rape culture, better policy accessibility and clarity and the creation of an online sexual harassment policy. Mena is also advocating for the university to publicize the number of sexual assaults reported annually and for the university to create advocacy centers.
“We want to institutionalize all departments that provide services to survivors,” Mena said. “The only department on our campus that is given any money to provide services to survivors is Title IX. They are given $23,000 operating budget, but that is not just for survivors. That is for everything that Title IX takes on. We have an over dependence of risk reduction efforts and no budgetary investment to preventive efforts.”
Additionally, Mena stressed the importance of the university to reevaluate the lack of a policy prohibiting faculty and student relations, which she plans to present in a resolution with Senator Tori Supple.
Mena also emphasized the need for sexual assault survivor support group on campus, along with a trauma center.
“We need an advocacy center to provide services to survivors of sexual assault, domestic abuse and a variety of other types of traumatic experiences,” Mena said. “There needs to be a trauma center, one that will allow students dealing with their trauma a place to escape, a place to go and find support, a place to go and find community, a place to find a sexual assault support group. We still don’t have a sexual assault support group on our campus. Counseling services does not offer it.”
The campaign stressed the need for a change in policy language, stating the current language “discourages reporting”. Mena noted Section 2 subsection 13 of the Student Code of Conduct, which states false allegations by filing a complaint under Student Conduct or with the Title IX/Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office. Individuals found stating false allegations will be punished by the university.
“Until there is major institutional policy change at UNR, reported victims will continue to suffer under the acceptable standard of a university which allows for repeat sexual assault offenders to remain on campus, seemingly without consequence,” the article said. “This is rape culture, and all forms of sexual misconduct are serious offenses that deserve more than weak no-contact orders and year-long investigations with little to no regard placed on the emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing of reported victims”