Dear William & Mary Community,
Sexual assault and harassment do particularly insidious damage to a safe and supportive campus environment. These evils afflict colleges and universities across the country. In response on our campus, William & Mary meets the requirements of federal and state law, as we are obliged to do, but more important we satisfy our own high standards of concern for one another and for honorable, ethical behavior in our dealings with each other.
I have established a task force of students, faculty and staff, chaired by Ginger Ambler, to focus on preventing sexual assault and harassment at William & Mary. Its mission is to find facts and make recommendations in these areas:
- CAMPUS CLIMATE: The task force will conduct a campus-wide survey to assess the extent and nature of sexual assault and harassment on our campus, to understand the level of awareness of campus resources available to respond, and to engage any related issues that can guide our decision-making. The survey will collect both quantitative data (questionnaires) and qualitative data (focus groups, town hall discussions, and the like).
- PREVENTION & EDUCATION: The task force will assess our current strategies and staffing to prevent sexual assault and harassment and to educate the campus community (undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and parents) about them.
- TRAINING FOR FACULTY & STAFF: The task force will examine best practices and avenues for delivering effective training to faculty and staff about how to ensure compliance with legal requirements and meet all other institutional goals.
- INVESTIGATION & ADJUDICATION: Within the context of compliance obligations and the university’s goals for prompt and equitable response to reported incidents, the task force will examine our current practices and procedures for investigating and adjudicating claims of sexual assault and harassment.
William & Mary will keep making progress in combatting sexual assault and harassment. For instance, in 2012, our Office of Student Affairs reorganized to increase its focus on student health and well-being, including efforts to prevent sexual assault and harassment. During 2013, we improved pertinent policies and procedures and offered new training and education programs.
A new university policy on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation was very recently adopted. This policy pulls together in one place other previously scattered policies about these matters and expands them, including a comprehensive list of where to go for help. The new, comprehensive policy can be found at www.wm.edu/policies/discrimination. You should give it a close look. It’s important.
Soon we will adopt modifications to our procedures for handling sexual assault cases, with an emphasis on ensuring fairness for all parties in aspects ranging from providing advisors to appeal rights. We are also establishing a new office and resource area in the Campus Center that will be an easily accessible “safe space” for anyone wanting to know more about services to combat sexual assault and/or to speak confidentially with Donna Haygood-Jackson, our Senior Assistant Dean of Students and sexual assault response coordinator.
William & Mary has also put extensive effort into cooperation with an investigation of our campus by the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR). We are one of more than 70 colleges and universities across the country at which OCR is now looking. We expect its scrutiny will result in some useful guidance.
All of us on campus have an opportunity to help. The task force noted above will be very interested in hearing from people about their experiences and their recommendations for improvement. OCR will be on campus and similarly interested. And we have the capacity, individually, to intervene if we see circumstances forming that might end in sexual assault or harassment. For William & Mary to combat these evils most effectively, each of us needs to pull our oar. It’s not simply someone else’s responsibility. It’s each of our responsibility.