U.Va. law professor Deena Hurwitz has given helpful advice for tackling the daunting task of reading, interpreting and commenting on the University’s approximately 60-page Sexual Misconduct Policy by the Dec. 20 deadline. A group of about 25 faculty, staff and students attended this informative brown bag session at Newcomb Hall on Dec. 5.

Given the time remaining in the comment period, many members of the U.Va. community will not be able to address the entire policy in their comments. Please note: Take this description of a process that would ideally be applied to the entire policy, and use it to comment upon the portion that you are able to. Even if you are only able to comment on one section or page of the entire policy, it is still worth the time, as all comments will be taken into account.

The policy affects students and should be clear to them. Receiving the comments of a wide variety of people from across the University community will help the administration gauge how well the policy conveys what is prohibited, what is permitted and what is required by it.

Before starting to read the policy:

  • It would be the most productive and manageable to work within a study group and to split up the document. (Please note: It would help if one person was familiar with the entire document.) Once individual reading of each section is complete, the group would reconvene and share what they read and any flags that were raised.
  • Know the context of the policy, such as past iterations of it, the cause for reform and responsibility of the University based on Title IX, the Clery Act, and VAWA Reauthorization Act 2013. Please view this PDF document for additional background information: Handout for Policy Reading Session Dec 2014.
  • Read analyses from trusted organizations, including ones that don’t quite align with your viewpoint. Furthermore, a student from the group One Less suggested watching the following video recap of the entire policy, or reading the transcript.

The overall goal for the study group is to consider the following when reading and then later discussing, keeping in mind that each person will come into the group with his or her own political or social bias:

  • What does this policy/ law PERMIT us to do?
  • What does this policy/ law DIRECT us to do
  • What does this policy/ law COMPEL us to do
  • What does this policy/ law PROHIBIT from doing?

Ultimately, the group will assess whether the above answers are clearly stated with easy-to-understand language that is free of ambiguities so that there are no detrimental loopholes.

Do the following while and after reading the policy:

  • Read the text three times, and then read it again. Please note: The most relevant text is buried in irrelevant text.
  • Pay attention to clauses that refer to other docs/statutes/laws that will affect meaning and function of the policy. Although, be realistic and know when to stop researching.
  • It’s tempting to skip words you don’t quite understand. Don’t do it. If you’re confused about what a word means and can’t understand from the context, look the word up.
  • Assume all words have meaning. Pay attention to commonly used terms such as:
  • “and” vs. “or”   = The use of “and” to end a series means that all elements of the series are included, or necessary, but an “or” at the end of a series means that only one of the elements need be included.
  • “may” vs. “shall”   = “may” allows for discretion while “shall” means mandated
  • “the”   vs. “a”
  • Assume all punctuation has meaning. For example, a semi-colon may be used on purpose to group a set of ideas together, rather than starting a new sentence or paragraph to set something a part.
  • Apply the policy to a situation at hand – in the context of past and future.

 Story and photo by Agnes Filipowski