EDITORIAL: Sign the bill, Jerry Brown!

Any sexual assault committed by a student that occurs on the Riverside Community College District property is against district policies and is subject to punishment. What about the incidents of sexual assault that happen off district property?

RCCD should be able to discipline a student for assault off district property. Enabling community colleges to punish off-campus crimes could keep a campus such as RCC safer by not allowing those who have committed these crimes on the campus, and therefore decreasing their access to members of the campus. Community colleges being able to discipline students for acts of sexual assault outside of the campus boundaries would also keep the community safer. All students should be able to attend classes in an environment where they feel safe and respected.

The California education code prevents community colleges from disciplining students who commit crimes off-campus and unrelated to the district. According to education code, community colleges can suspend, remove or expel a student only if there is a “good cause” for it.

  The code defines “good cause” as disruptive behavior, disobedience, profanity or abuse toward college personnel; any threat of violence against a student or employee; misconduct that results in injury or death to a student or college personnel or damage to district property; the use, sale, or possession of any controlled substance; smoking where prohibited; and persistent misconduct where other means of correction have failed to bring proper conduct. While all of these are related to college activity, none of them give community colleges the authority to discipline misconduct away from the campus, when students are representing their college.

The code is different for universities.There is no section in the education code regarding when they can and cannot discipline a student, leaving it up to the university’s discretion and making it an imbalance between universities and community colleges.

In comparison to RCCD’s policy on sexual assault, the University of California and Cal State University’s policy is more vague. The code states that sexual harassment and sexual violence is prohibited, not mentioning a specific location or if it has to be related to college activity.

To combat the education code, State Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson introduced Senate Bill 186 on Feb. 9, which would give community colleges the same authority over sexual assault crimes committed by students outside of district property and unrelated to college activity as Universities of California and Cal States have. These universities can discipline students for misconduct that occur outside of its borders.

As members of a community college editorial board, we are in full support of this bill because it serves as an attempt to create a safe environment.

The bill passed through the assembly with a unanimous 63-0 vote and was sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature Aug. 20.

The California Campus Blueprint to Address Sexual Assault is a set of recommendations, considerations and specific action steps for colleges and universities to address and prevent sexual assault. It doesn’t make much sense to set a plan for all colleges to deal with sexual assault then limit community colleges from dealing with it off campus. This gives the impression that community colleges are secondary to universities because they may lack equal disciplinary authority.

Both community colleges and universities are required to comply with Title IX, a law enacted  in 1972. It requires institutions to take the necessary steps to prevent sexual assault and respond promptly when it occurs. Community colleges being limited in when they can discipline a student contradicts this law, which states that colleges are required to prevent sexual assault. A necessary step to preventing sexual assault on campus may include disciplining a student for sexual assault off campus.

Title IX requires colleges to process all complaints of sexual assault to determine if it was related to college activity and if the incident will affect on-campus safety. Being that community colleges are already required to investigate all reports of sexual assault, SB 186 would give them the authority to carry out disciplinary procedures for those reports and prevent them from affecting the safety of those on campus, which isn’t much more than what is already being done.

Allowing community colleges to carry out disciplinary procedures after investigating those who commit sexual assault would only be taking prevention of sexual assault on campus and ensuring the safety of students and faculty a step further.

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