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Save for its tiny student body and colonial architecture, Southern Virginia University could easily be mistaken for Mormonism's flagship school in Provo.
The majority of SVU's 40 faculty members and more than 90 percent of its 700 students are LDS, many of whom have served missions for the Utah-based faith. The Eastern university also has a similar honor code. It allows no drinking, drugs, premarital sex, tattoos, facial hair on men (except mustaches) and it takes a Mormon bishop's recommendation to gain admission.
A key difference between the two schools, however, has emerged in the past year: SVU gives "amnesty" for breaking school rules to students reporting sexual assaults. Its counterpart, Brigham Young University, does not.
Beyond that, the Buena Vista campus owned and operated by Mormons but not by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has conducted campuswide conversations and trainings about healthy sexuality, what it means to consent, and avenues for survivors to detail attacks without fear of punishment.
All these programs did not happen on SVU's initiative alone: The school was prodded into action by a federal investigation.
Last year, a gay student filed a formal complaint against SVU's provost, alleging sexual harassment based on the student's sexual orientation.
The federal government's Office of Civil Rights looked into the allegations and ultimately cleared the school official, SVU spokesman Chris Pendleton says, but found "some of the university's Title IX-related policies and procedures were out of compliance."
With governmental training and assistance, the Mormon liberal-arts college set out to change attitudes about rape and provide a safer atmosphere for its students.
Stepping up • Deidra Dryden has been at SVU for nearly two decades, arriving barely a year after LDS businessmen assumed ownership of the historic campus.
A popular and compassionate figure on campus, Dryden has worked in the athletic department as a basketball, tennis, softball and volleyball coach and also has taught math as an adjunct professor. She currently serves as the senior women's administrator.
In the aftermath of the 2015 federal inquiry, Dryden was appointed by SVU President Reed Wilcox as the school's Title IX officer, answerable to him rather than to the Student Life Office, as in the past.
She conducted workshops and trainings with faculty and staffers, as well as with groups of students, especially student leaders in the residence halls.
"We were pretty blunt," Dryden explains in a phone interview. "We had students practice saying, 'I was OK with that, but not this,' and then saying, 'I am done for the night.' "
Shoushig Tenguerian, a senior Title IX education intern from Brooklyn, helped Dryden educate students on these issues, particularly the importance of consent and the nature of stalking.
Tenguerian has heard lots of misconceptions about healthy sexuality and consent.
"Sometimes girls and guys do something and feel that because [intimacy] has already started," she says, "they have to go 'all the way.' "
The trainers make it clear that participants can choose what they want at every point. They also teach students how to say "no" by using a chocolate chip cookie and an onion:
Tenguerian asks a participant if he wants the cookie.
"Yes" is the most common answer.
Then he is asked if he wants the onion.
"Really? I see you want this onion."
"I am sure you want it. You are looking at it."
"No. No. No."
Eventually, participants get it, she says. Partners are not flirting, teasing or playing hard-to-get.
"No" means no the first time, every time.
Next, Tenguerian plays contemporary pop songs with lyrics like "one way or another; I'm gonna get you."
That's classic stalking, she tells them, and, if you do it, there will be consequences.
Cody Barnes is an SVU junior from Los Angeles and, as a residence-hall adviser, has been involved in multiple training sessions.
"The biggest thing I learned is what is a healthy relationship and what isn't," Barnes says, and how to identify the "signs of what could be a violent or abusive relationship."
Young men at SVU don't talk about these issues a lot, Barnes says, "but I think they have been well-informed."
Another resident adviser, sophomore Kadee Avila from Arizona, has heard harrowing tales of dates turning violent and about encounters in which victims felt they had broken SVU's honor code.
"The information was kind of unnerving," Avila says. "Because of our training, I knew to take this to our Title IX adviser. It was super-confidential. [Those who reported] were not investigated for Honor Council rules."
The lines of reporting are clear and confidential, she says. "Students are more protected now, and I feel that way, too."
Eliminating barriers • More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging BYU to amend its Honor Code policies to include an amnesty clause for sexual-assault victims. It says it is considering unspecified "structural" changes to how it handles sexual-assault cases. The school also has come under fire for the communication that takes place between its Honor Code and Title IX offices.
Those links do not exist at SVU and it's no accident.
The value and purpose of such a firewall, along with the amnesty provision, are to eliminate any fear of reporting sexual assaults.
"You want victims to report," Dryden emphasizes, to weed out "repeat offenders."
Her office also has no relationship with the six lay Mormon bishops who oversee congregations of SVU students.
The bishops "are aware of who I am and what I do," she says. "They encourage young victims to come and see me. But they are not part of the process."
Dryden also does not work with the Honor Council in the Student Life Office (equivalent to BYU's Honor Code Office) on any investigations.
"If I conduct an investigation into an assault and find out that a student had been drinking," she says, "that information is not given to the Honor Council."
Information may come from that office, Dryden says, "but it doesn't go back there."
Her office currently is not doing any investigations of sexual assault but has in the past year.
The beefed-up Title IX system the school has implemented seems to be working. Students report feeling safer, and more aware, she says. "But we are not immune."
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Southern Virginia University's amnesty clause
"To encourage reporting of Title IX violations, anyone who reports sexual misconduct, either as a witness or complainant, will not be subject to disciplinary action by the university for their own personal use of alcohol or drugs at or near the time of the incident, so long as those actions did not, or do not place anyone else at risk regarding their health and safety."
The Honor Code and sexual assault at BYU
Tell the Tribune: Have you or someone you know experienced a sexual assault at BYU?
April 15 • Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson says BYU jeopardizes a pending rape prosecution because the Honor Code Office after obtaining the police file from a Utah County sheriff's deputy who knew the suspect refuses to delay its own case against the alleged victim.
April 15 • Utah County Attorney Jeffrey Buhman counters his prosecutor's opinion that BYU's Honor Code Office was threatening a pending rape prosecution with its probe into the victim's actions. Buhman said he dropped a witness retaliation charge against a Utah County sheriff's deputy because of information he learned from an inadmissible internal affairs investigation.
April 18 • BYU said its Title IX investigators, charged with protecting students from sex discrimination, sometimes refer sexual assault victims to the Honor Code Office for investigation of their conduct, and announces that it will review "potential structural changes" in light of public concern.