Previous Letters from President Veitch
Below you will find previous letters to the campus community from President Veitch.
August 23, 2013 - Interim Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures for 2013-2014 Academic Year
August 8, 2013 –August 8 Sexual Assault Update
May 1, 2013 - May 1 Sexual Assault Update
April 16, 2013 – Sexual Assault Update
March 19, 2013 – Occidental Weekly
March 5, 2013 – Letter to the campus community
As promised on May 1, we are delivering the interim sexual misconduct policies and procedures that will be in effect for the 2013-14 academic year.
The development of the interim policy is an expression of the College’s commitment to fostering a climate free from sexual harassment and misconduct through clear and effective policies, a coordinated education and prevention program, easily accessible mechanisms for reporting, and prompt and equitable procedures for resolution of complaints. This interim policy is one of many steps that demonstrate the College’s commitment to this issue. Others include the national search for a dedicated Title IX Coordinator, the hiring of a full-time survivor advocate, the creation of the Oxy Assault and Advocacy Response Team, and the continuing public dialogue about these important issues.
Drafted with the assistance of Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, the outside experts we brought in to assess our existing policies and procedures, this new umbrella policy is consistent with the latest thinking about effective practices on campuses across the country, as well as recent legislation and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. It is also drawn from the contributions of many Oxy community members, including the Sexual Assault Task Force, Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC), Occidental Men Against Rape, ASOC, and many other students, faculty, parents and alumni. The policy has also benefited from the candid input received through the anonymous online suggestion box at https://oxy.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8d1V3gEt6szEaix.
Like many colleges and universities, Occidental had previously treated sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in separate policies: a sexual misconduct policy that applied to students and a harassment policy that applied to the entire community, including faculty, students, and staff. Our new interim policy combines these two into a single umbrella policy. This decision was based on a number of factors: the way federal law defines sexual assault as a form of harassment, advice from the Department of Education, and a desire to apply policy consistently to all members of the Oxy community on an issue that affects everyone. We believe a universal policy will be easier for everyone to understand, to access, and to administer.
The interim policy is supplemented by specific procedures for the resolution of a report of sexual harassment or misconduct against students, found in Appendix A. Procedures for resolving complaints against faculty or staff will continue to be handled according to current practices. A focus of our work this fall will be to draft, with community input, specific procedures for resolving complaints against staff and faculty.
This interim policy recognizes the importance of respect for the autonomy and agency of a survivor, ease of access to reporting, a balanced approach to protect individual and community safety, and a commitment to fairness and equity. Key to this approach is a centralized process that begins with an initial assessment by the Title IX Coordinator and trained administrators and the ability to pursue either a formal disciplinary or “informal” remedies-based resolution process, expanding the College’s ability to respond to misconduct in a manner consistent with our Title IX responsibilities. Highlights of the interim policy include:
- Clarification of the difference between confidential resources (support is provided, but information is not shared with others) and reporting options (information is shared with a small group of people to allow for resolution)
- Clear guidance about reporting options, on and off campus
- Expanded discussion of resources, including interim measures and accommodations available to all community members
- Increased protection through expanded definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault and more specific forms of prohibited conduct, including harm to others and stalking
- Refined and expanded definitions of consent, coercion and incapacitation
- A commitment to encouraging bystander engagement and intervention
- Amnesty provisions for personal use of alcohol and drugs to encourage reporting
- Time frames for all major stages of investigation and resolution
These changes are part of several positive steps toward making sure every community member feels safe and valued. To make the interim policy as accessible as possible, we will be following up with a path diagram/decision tree and an FAQ to help guide community members through the process. You can find the interim policy and other important information at: http://www.oxy.edu/sexual-assault-resources-support/
This interim policy will be in effect for the 2013-2014 academic year, a time frame we will use to continue to ensure that our practices are responsive to the needs of our community. The new Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board is charged with reaching out to the Oxy community, listening to your comments and feedback, and making recommendations for changes to the interim policy for the following year. This board will be comprised of two faculty members appointed by the Faculty Council, Mary Christianakis and Donna Maeda of CTSJ; two students to be appointed by ASOC; and two staff members, the Title IX coordinator and Robin Davidson, director of the Emmons Student Wellness Center. I am grateful to all committee members for taking on such important work that will benefit all of us. I look forward to a thoughtful discussion about the interim policies and procedures as we try to balance best practices, legal requirements, and Oxy’s unique needs.
On the personnel and support front, we continue to move forward with hiring a permanent Title IX coordinator. We are exploring the pros and cons of using an outside investigator. We are still building our year-round prevention education and training programs. And there is much more, including deepening our community partnerships and increasing campus awareness of the interim policy.
I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Irene Girton, who worked tirelessly all summer to help Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez deliver this policy and establish the role of Title IX coordinator in its new form.
Finally, one small but important point: the new interim policy and procedures will not apply to complaints filed under the old policy. The interim policy and procedures will be applied to all reports, formal, informal, and anonymous, received after August 23, 2013.
I will continue to keep you up to date on these and other efforts as we move ahead in our effort to make Oxy a national leader on this issue.
August 23, 2013
August 8, 2013
We are writing to provide you with an update on the College’s ongoing efforts to address issues of sexual misconduct at Occidental. Over the summer months, many members of our community have been working with a continued sense of urgency. Sexual misconduct is an issue that affects each of us, and as we said in May, this is too important to wait for the coming academic year.
We are making a series of changes to the personnel, structure and resources in place to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct. These changes were informed by the interim recommendations put forward in May by Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez of Pepper Hamilton LLP, two of the nation's leading experts in this area who have been conducting an independent review of our sexual misconduct policies. Their recommendations reflect meetings with, and contributions from, members of the Sexual Assault Task Force, Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition, Occidental Men Against Rape, and ASOC, as well as many other students, faculty, and administrators. Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez also met with the Board of Trustees, the Alumni Board of Governors, and have received candid input through the anonymous suggestion box on the Oxy website.
Our hope is that we will continue to work together on a shared agenda as we move forward in the weeks and months ahead.
Resources and Support
We have made a number of personnel changes and implemented new programming that will provide additional support and resources to all members of our community.
- Irene Girton, associate dean of the college and professor of music, has been named interim Title IX coordinator. In this role, Irene is responsible for oversight of the investigation and resolution of all reports involving sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence. She reports directly to the president and is supported by deputy Title IX coordinators. She previously served as a deputy Title IX coordinator and is well versed in this area. She has been extremely helpful in planning our efforts for the coming year, some of which are outlined below.
- We formed a search committee to hire a permanent Title IX coordinator. Jorge Gonzalez, vice president of academic affairs, will oversee the committee which includes Irene Girton; Faculty Council President Nalsey Tinberg; professors Donna Maeda (CTSJ), Salvador Fernandez (Spanish and French Literary Studies), and Mary Beth Heffernan (AHVA); Ella Turenne, assistant dean for community engagement; Roberta Dacus, nurse practitioner at Emmons Student Wellness Center; and James Uhrich, associate vice president of information technology services. They are scheduled to meet Aug. 16 and Aug. 26.
- In April we announced that we had brought on Naddia Palacios as a confidential survivor advocate. We’re pleased to report that Naddia has joined us full-time, reporting to Robin Davidson, the new Emmons director. Naddia (email@example.com) will be accessible 24 hours a day to provide crisis support and resource options to students. Naddia also will serve as coordinator of Project SAFE. We are grateful to Dominic Alletto for his good work with Project SAFE. He will continue in his role as assistant director of intercultural affairs and will remain a partner in education on these critical issues.
- Project SAFE will double in size from two to four program assistants starting this fall. Project SAFE will assist in educational program development and implementation, as well as ongoing campus-wide outreach.
- We will have a new 24-hour hotline available to students in time for Orientation. ProtoCall, a highly regarded behavioral intervention organization, will implement a hotline tailored to meet the needs of our students, including after-hours access to highly trained clinicians. ProtoCall will coordinate closely with Emmons staff, including the survivor advocate, to provide a seamless and immediate on-campus response to sexual assault survivors with high quality and confidential care.
- We have formed a new Oxy Assault Advocacy & Response Team, consisting of Oxy psychologists, medical staff, and the survivor advocate to ensure that survivors receive a full range of timely and continual support, care and linkage to services including medical, forensic, advocacy and legal support, as well as housing and academic accommodations.
- We are forming a new Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board to provide ongoing review of policies, practices, procedures, and programming relevant to sexual misconduct. The board will be charged with making evidence-based recommendations (using data on reporting and outcomes from the offices of the Title IX coordinator, the Dean of Students office, and Campus Safety) for changes to policies, procedures, and practices to the president and vice presidents at the end of each academic year. The board will be comprised of two faculty members, Mary Christianakis and Donna Maeda (both of CTSJ), appointed by Faculty Council; two students to be appointed by ASOC; and two staff members, Emmons Director Robin Davidson and the Title IX coordinator.
- We are exploring the feasibility of pairing a professional external investigator with a trained on-campus representative for future cases to ensure the highest standard of professionalism in this important part of the adjudication process.
- Much information is available through the Sexual Assault Resources & Support section of the Oxy web site. We will continue to update this site as a comprehensive resource for the campus community.
Education and Training
On June 27 and again on July 16 we joined other members of the senior staff for two initial rounds of training by Peace Over Violence (POV), one of the country’s oldest organizations committed to the prevention of sexual violence, domestic violence, child abuse and youth violence. We have the utmost respect for the work POV is doing. We believe education is necessary at all levels within our community and to that end we are exploring various types of partnerships with POV. In addition, the following education and training will begin with the fall semester:
- All students, including first-years, transfers, and returning students, will be required to participate in the online training program called "Think About It" as part of Clearance. The goal of the program is to provide a solid foundation for students to create an ethical community of care and to look out for and respect each other. It is designed to deepen conversations about complex issues, and to develop a campus community that respects every individual. More details are available at: http://www.campusclarity.com.
- Orientation programming around sexual assault will include 4.5 hours of mandatory programming, double the previous time allotted, and will focus on our sexual misconduct policy and resources, consent, active bystander training, and a discussion about sex. The training will culminate with a presentation by Dr. Jackson Katz, a leading national voice on the issue.
- The First-Year Residential Education program will incorporate educational opportunities on sexual misconduct into new student programming.
- In addition, we are planning a speaker series for the fall semester. It will be scheduled so that all faculty, students and staff will be able to participate in the discussion, reflection and education.
- Members of the Emmons staff will take part in the 2013 National Sexual Assault Conference, taking place at the Loews Hollywood Hotel August 28-30.
- As we noted earlier, Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez provided a series of recommendations on May 1. We have implemented many of those recommendations. They will deliver new interim sexual misconduct policies and procedures later this month that will be in effect for the coming year, subject to a comprehensive review by the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board. Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez will be back on campus Aug. 24-29 to assist in the implementation of the policy, meet with members of the campus community, and provide some additional training for community members. They are currently scheduled to speak at the Aug. 26 faculty meeting.
- The Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board will be responsible for the evaluation of the interim policies and procedures delivered by Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez, vetting them thoroughly, and making recommendations for any changes it deems necessary for the 2014-15 academic year. Of course, under ordinary circumstances, this process would be reversed – the vetting would take place before the policies are implemented, even on an interim basis. But as we have said before, this is too important an issue to wait, particularly in light of our need to have an improved policy in place to begin the new academic year.
- Ms Smith and Ms. Gomez are continuing their review of the past two years of sexual assault cases at Oxy, which they expect will be completed this fall. To accommodate our desire for a fully developed policy, they have agreed to extend their work on the review past the beginning of the semester.
- We will continue to cooperate fully with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights’ investigation into the complaint filed in April to ensure we are addressing all issues related to sexual misconduct.
We are encouraged by the good work of so many people and confident that progress is being made. Make no mistake: There is much more work to be done. We remain committed to providing the necessary time, resources and effort to make Oxy a leader on this issue.
We will continue to keep you up to date on these and other efforts as we move ahead.
Jonathan Veitch and Irene Girton
May 1, 2013
In an effort to address the serious concerns raised about sexual assault at Occidental, the College commissioned Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, two of the nation's leading experts on issues of sexual misconduct on college campuses, to conduct an independent review of Oxy’s policies and procedures. As promised, I am sharing Gina and Leslie’s May 1 Interim Recommendations letter (PDF download) in its entirety. The attached letter details their work thus far, makes some initial recommendations, and lays out a goal for the delivery of their final report in August.
Work on this issue is too important to delay, and with Commencement less than three weeks away it is vital not to lose our momentum. We will continue to press on with our work through the summer months. In the interim, based on input from individual faculty, staff and students, the work done to date by the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) and the Sexual Assault Task Force, and Gina and Leslie’s preliminary recommendations, the College is committed to taking the following specific, concrete actions immediately. We hope these initial steps will serve as the basis for a shared agenda in the weeks and months ahead.
Actions Already Taken
- Earlier this month, we launched a newly revised Sexual Assault Resources & Support website. We invite your feedback as we continue our work to make it more helpful and user-friendly.
- We hired an on-campus advocate to bolster support for sexual-assault survivors. Naddia Palacios (firstname.lastname@example.org), who many of you remember as our well-regarded associate director of intercultural affairs from 2007-2010, returned to campus on April 22 to begin work at Emmons Student Wellness Center.
- As we move forward with policy revision, we will ensure that we inform our campus of all changes. I expect our new policy to incorporate the changes we have already put in place regarding limitations on the scope of appeal and protocols for issuing email alerts to notify the community when a sexual assault has been reported.
- We have authorized the addition of a Title IX Coordinator as a full-time, professional position reporting directly to the President, effective immediately. Dean Avery, Senior Associate Dean O’Neal Howard and I all agree that a separate, independent position -- as is found on other campuses -- will provide the kind of oversight required. A national search begins immediately, with the goal of having a new person in place this fall. In the meantime, we will move quickly to name an interim coordinator who will lead the College’s efforts over the summer months.
- We created an anonymous suggestion box to solicit comments about sexual-assault issues from anyone in the campus community. Comments from the suggestion box will go directly to Gina and Leslie and will inform their review. We will continue to use the anonymous suggestion box as a platform for comments and feedback after the work of our consultants is completed.
- In light of recent concerns about the role played by legal counsel, Carl Botterud has voluntarily recused himself from providing advice or guidance on any matters related to sexual harassment or misconduct cases. I agree that this decision is in the best interest of the College at this time. The College will rely upon a local attorney who will serve as interim outside counsel with respect to these matters.
- We will create a structured sexual-assault program at Orientation that reflects our revised policies and procedures. We will incorporate the work of the Sexual Assault Task Force and solicit the active participation of our advocate, Naddia, OSAC, Occidental Men Against Rape (OMAR), Project SAFE and other groups.
- We will begin the evaluation of platforms for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week sexual-assault hotline and an implementation plan to have it in place this fall.
- I will join members of senior leadership in Peace Over Violence training to improve our understanding of sexual-assault issues.
- We will complete a comprehensive revision of sexual-misconduct policies and procedures. This revision, which is already underway, will incorporate OSAC’s 12 Demands, the excellent research contained in its 87-point matrix, as well as the work of Gina and Leslie. The goal is to have a new policy in place by the beginning of the fall semester. The campus community will then have the opportunity to offer feedback and suggestions.
- A standing committee of faculty, staff and students will start this fall to regularly review sexual-misconduct policy. Faculty Council has already agreed to select faculty members to serve on the new committee.
- We will create a comprehensive educational program that begins at Orientation and continues throughout each student’s entire experience at Oxy. Developing such a program will be one of the principal responsibilities of the new Title IX Coordinator in consultation with the new standing committee on sexual assault.
- We will recommit ourselves to a regular and consistent training program for everyone involved in the campus response to sexual assault – faculty, students, and staff – to be led this fall by the new Title IX Coordinator.
- Effective this fall, Project SAFE will have four programming assistants, double the current number.
I am convinced that we will look back on 2013 as the year in which there was a significant shift in the culture of colleges and universities across the country. Community members are challenging a culture of complacency toward sexual assault. Difficult as it has been, I am grateful to OSAC and other committed community members, including students, staff and faculty, for challenging Occidental to do better -- and we will do better.
As Oxy’s president I am the person ultimately responsible for the safety of all of our students. I take the concerns that have been raised by our community very seriously, and I am committed to dedicating the necessary time and resources to make Oxy a leader on this issue. We have a profound obligation to live up to our institutional values in all aspects of campus life, and ensure that Oxy is a place where everyone feels safe and valued.
April 16, 2013
Dear Oxy Community,
The College is committed to an open and frank conversation about sexual assault on the Occidental campus. The recent dialogue demonstrates that there is a serious difference of opinion on campus around several issues, but our shared goal is clear: the creation of a safe and respectful campus environment at Oxy.
As part of the College’s continuing response to the discussion about sexual assault and some of the serious issues that have been raised, we have taken two immediate steps.
First, we have launched a new Sexual Assault Resources & Support website.
As Dean Avery noted, this site provides centralized information about our policies and procedures, campus and community resources, reporting options and grievance procedures. It will also contain a section that documents our ongoing efforts on campus with a checklist and timeline so our progress can be measured.
Our second step, as many of you know, was to bring in two outside experts to help all of us reach our shared goal, and to attempt to bridge the gap between us. Attorneys Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez of Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton are former sex crime prosecutors who have more than 25 years of experience investigating, evaluating, and adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct, developing policy and procedure, and improving institutional responses. They have worked with dozens of colleges and universities, most recently with Amherst College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I have asked Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez to provide an honest assessment of where we are and where we need to go. Their task includes a period of community engagement and education, a review of all relevant policies and procedures, and an evaluation of our current practices for investigating and resolving reports of sexual assault. As part of this assessment, they will review a representative sample of cases from prior years, and will be available to speak to any participants in those cases who wish to do so.
Their work has already begun. On April 3-4, they met with students, representatives of OSAC, Faculty Council, ASOC, the Sexual Assault Task Force, our Title IX coordinator and deputies, the dean of students and myself, among others. It was a productive two days, with tough questions asked and answered during a series of honest and searching conversations. We knew from the start that this initial two-day visit wouldn’t be sufficient for the task at hand. Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez will return to Oxy on April 21-23 to continue their work. We will be facilitating individual and group meetings to ensure that all members of the campus community have a chance to be heard. If you’d like to meet with them, or have information to convey, please contact Samantha Bonar ’90 in the communications office at email@example.com.
I have engaged these consultants on behalf of the College, but they are not beholden to me or to any other Oxy administrator. They have complete freedom to reach their own conclusions, and will report their findings and recommendations directly to the Oxy community.
I will provide Ms. Smith and Ms. Gomez complete access to the Oxy community and to any documents, records or other information they seek. We also encourage candor by anyone who chooses to speak with them. It is only through the engagement and participation of community members that we can ensure that this review is informed, relevant, and meaningful.
We will endeavor to keep you informed as this hard work continues in our shared efforts to provide a safe campus and inspiring educational experience for all Oxy students.
March 19, 2013
The last couple of weeks have been quite tumultuous. And I'm afraid that I may have contributed to that tumult in some unproductive ways through my own email to all of you. I wrote it at a moment when everything seemed to be coming at us at once. A bad idea. Let me try again. I would like to begin by apologizing for a tone that might have alienated those I most wanted to reach--the students and faculty who care most about the issue of sexual assault. And while I am at it, let me also say that I'm sorry if I gave the impression that students or faculty should not be speaking to the media on an issue as important as this one. What I objected to was the implication--reported in the media--that the College is not serious about the issue of sexual assault. We are very serious.
Controversies like this one--particularly for those in the middle of them--can provide a powerful impetus for reflection. Over the past several days I have been engaged in conversation with a number of students, staff and faculty. They have given me some very good advice. I have been surprised by two things: the alarming number of students who have experienced some form of sexual assault at Occidental and beyond; as well as by the range of opinion about how incidents of sexual assault should be addressed by the College. Those conversations point to the necessity of acting promptly and the concomitant need to do so with deliberation--not an easy line to walk. In the course of those conversations, I was reminded of the importance of listening closely and with an open mind.
Already, thanks to my conversations with a thoughtful group of students, I have begun to change my thinking about the need for notification as a visible and persistent reminder of the intolerable incidence of sexual assault on our campus. I see more clearly now that my desire to protect the privacy of the survivor (and perhaps an unconscious and perhaps not entirely blameworthy desire to protect the reputation of the College) could easily lend itself to silence with regard to an issue that must be addressed by all of us. So we will act promptly to address this issue by asking our Office of Campus Safety to send out a campus-wide email reporting incidents of sexual assault. However--and here comes the deliberative part--we will only do so with the permission of the person lodging the report, and we will not provide information that will lead people to identify the specific actors involved. And just to be clear: We cannot use the Oxy Alert system for this purpose because the alert system must be reserved for natural disasters or the presence of a shooter on campus. We will use the campus-wide email system so that everyone will know that an intolerable violation of our commitment to each other has occurred.
Notification, of course, is just the beginning. There are many more issues that need to be addressed; many of them will be more vexing and less subject to compromise. We have a Task Force on Sexual Assault in place, which will issue a report on May 1st. That task force will hold open meetings and publish their minutes on-line. Anyone who wishes to get on the agenda may do so by reaching out to the Co-Chairs, Danielle Dirks and Shelby Radcliffe. The demands made by OSAC will serve as our starting point. Since--as I have said before--I agree in principle with most of them, I expect them to be implemented. Implementation will be subject to the laws of due process and privacy as mandated by our laws, and weighed in conjunction with best practices at other institutions. There will be disagreements, leading to results that will probably look like the policy on notification outlined above. But there will be results. Our goal is to make Occidental nothing short of exemplary in eradicating this scourge on our campus and encouraging the conversation we have on this and other vitally important issues. I invite you to join us.
March 5, 2013
Sexual assault is a serious issue on college and university campuses. It is probably the single-most under-reported issue in higher education. We—and by we, I mean all of us—must do something about it. It is incumbent on Occidental; it is incumbent on each of us.
As nearly everyone knows by now, a report of sexual assault was made a week ago that led to a police investigation and coverage on the local news.
Some students and faculty are upset that the College did not notify them of the incident immediately after it happened. Immediate public notification is not a practice that is either possible or desirable. Here is why: 1) In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place. That delay in no way affects the need for a supportive response to the survivor of such an incident, but it does require us to be sure of what we know before publicly going forward. 2) This is a very small community. Public notification makes identification of both the survivor and the alleged perpetrator far more likely, violating the privacy of those involved. 3) A public notification after an incident of sexual assault could easily create an environment in which survivors are unlikely to come forward for fear of being the subject of public discussion and rumor. Where there is a serious and continuing danger, such as an unidentified assailant, or unknown threat that requires a temporarily increased level of security, we will alert the community right away just as we do for other crimes. In this particular case there was no ongoing danger of an unknown repeat offence because the student involved was immediately identified and interviewed by the police and by Student Affairs.
If the foregoing is the case, then why are people calling for notification? Three answers have been put forward: 1) failure to alert perpetuates the myth that stranger rape is more common than non-stranger rape; 2) the importance of educating people about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses; 3) the fear that Occidental will shun the publicity associated with notification in the hopes that "the problem will go away." These concerns are legitimate. And I think they can be addressed in other ways. OSAC has called for a "detailed annual sexual assault report." We will do that. I've asked the Task Force on Sexual Assault to look at best practices at other institutions for examples of how that information can be assembled and shared with the community in a way that will have maximum impact. Let me be clear about this: we share the concern about the national and local incidence of sexual assault on college campuses like Occidental. I believe it is incumbent on Occidental to do everything it can to respond swiftly and effectively to incidents of sexual assault and to be honest and forthright about the number and nature of sexual assaults on our campus. We will find the appropriate vehicle. No hiding.
The most recent incident points to a set of unresolved issues that I would like to use this occasion to address. Last fall, a number of students and faculty expressed their concern over recent changes in our sexual assault policy, as well as the effectiveness and quality of certain procedures associated with that policy. At bottom was an outrage over an intolerable situation in which sexual assaults have become far too common on our campus and others. We share that concern, and took several steps in response. First I met with members of OSAC at a public meeting, and then I met individually with several survivors of sexual assault at Occidental. I reviewed the transcripts and tapes from a number of cases that were brought before hearing boards last year to discover what lessons might be learned from them. And finally, I convened a Task Force on Sexual Assault to review our policies and procedures with the goal of recommending changes. While we have a strong policy in place, we are always willing to review and improve it.
While we were in agreement with the spirit of most of the demands made by OSAC, our response made clear that we differed on the best way to implement them. We also made it clear that preventing sexual assault was and is the responsibility of our entire community—students, faculty, staff and administration—and that changes in policy or procedure needed to be part of a community-wide discussion. This was not a strategy for delay as some have charged; rather, it is an attempt to focus legitimate outrage into channels of communication that will educate our entire community on the nature of sexual assault and to come to a broader consensus on the proper means to address it. If a liberal arts college is not the place for thoughtful conversation about an issue as important as sexual assault then we will fail to achieve our primary educational mission and succumb to the sorry state of uncivil discourse one finds in our national political life.
I'm dismayed that having agreed to that conversation, a number of well-intentioned people have chosen to cast our motives into doubt; vilify dedicated, hard-working members of Student Affairs; question the sincerity of our response; and actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news. That is their choice, and there is very little I can do about it. I can say that it reflects poorly on their commitment to this conversation and to the broader education that must take place if we are to change a culture we all find repugnant. The repugnance of sexual assault is not open to question; but the policies and procedures that guide our response to those incidents is something about which reasonable people can disagree. I'm sure there are those who feel that confrontation is necessary to exert pressure on the College to do the right thing. But there is a point where confrontation becomes an end in itself—satisfying, no doubt, but counter-productive with regard to our shared aims. When it crosses that threshold and descends into name-calling, vilification and misrepresentation, it undermines the trust and good will of everyone involved. And worst of all, it does not lead to progress on this important issue. Some of the work ahead is long and tedious. But those who care about this issue will demonstrate their commitment by mastering the complex set of issues governing our policies and participating in the painstaking work of bringing other stakeholders into the conversation in the hopes of persuading them and being persuaded by them in return.
It is my fervent hope that we can all return to the conversation that we have begun together. The starting point for these discussions will be the OSAC demands, but it will not be the ending point. The Sexual Assault Task Force reserves the right to add other items to the agenda, and to rethink some of the suggestions made by OSAC. We will provide a full report on our progress by May 1. The Task Force will continue to do its work, focusing on education, therapeutic response, adjudication, best practices, and revision of policy. Going forward, we will make a concerted effort to make this discussion public. I invite you to join us.
- Phone: (323) 259-2691
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org