University continues efforts to improve response to sexual assault and misconduct with release of working group report

Commitments focus on student support, transparency and communication, advisory and administrative coordinating groups

Brookings HallSexual assault and misconduct are serious, difficult issues on college and university campuses across the country, and Washington University in St. Louis is no exception. While emphasizing that it is deeply troubling that sexual assault and sexual misconduct occur on its campuses and that the ultimate goal is to prevent them from ever happening in the first place, the university is taking significant steps to improve its response when they do occur.

As the 2018-19 academic year begins, the university has released the findings and recommendations of a working group that convened over the summer to identify areas for improvement. The effort was launched in response to feedback and concerns students have shared with the administration.

At a rally held on the Danforth Campus last spring, students shared personal stories and expressed their views that the university should take steps to create a more timely and efficient process, and provide more support for students who become involved with a Title IX complaint. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment may constitute a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX, and the university’s Title IX Office is responsible for overseeing internal university investigations into such complaints, including incidents involving sexual assault or sexual misconduct.

Following the rally, student organizers presented a list of specific recommendations for improving the Title IX process, and at that time, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton tasked Lori S. White, vice chancellor for student affairs, with leading a working group to develop a plan for addressing four key areas of improvement in the university’s response to sexual assault and misconduct:

  • Reducing stress on students involved in the Title IX process; reducing timelines; and increasing sensitivity;
  • Enhancing resources for mental health services and survivor support; adding Title IX investigative staff; and training, especially to make the process and those who support our students more trauma-informed and more sensitive to all identities;
  • Providing a channel for peer consultants to assist students going through the Title IX process and provide feedback to the Title IX office; and
  • Establishing accountability measures with opportunities for student feedback.

The working group’s report includes recommendations to add new staff positions and other resources, create advisory groups and feedback mechanisms, and increase communication and transparency about the Title IX process. The plan also confirms the university’s intention to follow through on the report’s recommendations, with a specific timeline for completion of key milestones during this academic year.

The complete working group report and a letter from Wrighton and White to students are available online. In their letter, Wrighton and White encouraged students to read the report and continue to engage in dialogue about their experiences and recommendations.

“It is deeply troubling that any of our students would experience incidents of sexual assault and misconduct,” they wrote. “These are difficult topics, but we must acknowledge that they are a reality on college campuses, including ours, and work very hard to address them. We have heard you, we are still listening, and we are in this, together, for the long haul.”

To give students an opportunity to learn more and offer their input and suggestions, the university will host a listening session on campus at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12 in Umrath Lounge, and will also provide options for students to share anonymous feedback directly to the administration or confidential counselors.

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