Response to University of Chicago Alumni for a Student Assault Policy Open Letter to President Zimmer

On Thursday, February 27, 2014 12:09 PM, Michele Rasmussen <mrasmussen@uchicago.edu> wrote:

Dear Andrea, Katie, and other alumni in support of a Student Assault Policy:

 

Thank you for contacting President Zimmer, who has asked me to respond on his behalf. I share your concerns with regard to sexual violence on university campuses, and wanted to take an opportunity to update you on the efforts that have been made at UChicago over the past decade to address these issues here. That said, there is always more to be done, and I would like to share future plans with you as well.

 

To sustain an academic community in which all students and scholars can participate freely and fully, the University has fostered a particular commitment to addressing sexual misconduct and unlawful harassment and discrimination involving students. Over the years, this has led to the creation of important student support programs such as the Office for Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention in 1992, Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call in 1997, and the Bias Response Team in 2005. RSVP, which originated with a class gift and as of two years ago has a full-time director leading it, has expanded its efforts over the years and continually promotes healthy gender relationships through dialogue and education, working toward the elimination of sexual violence, and holds a variety of workshops and training for Recognized Student Organizations, College Housing, UCPD, staff and faculty. RSVP also provides the opportunity for students to join the Peer Education Program.

 

During orientation, the College has leveraged RSVP as well as Student Counseling Services and Health Promotion and Wellness to lead discussions on the interconnectedness of alcohol awareness, gender relationships, racial identity, sexism, heterosexism and violence. Five years ago, the College also implemented AlcoholEdu, an online training course that dedicates a third of its curriculum to bystander intervention and sexual violence.

 

This commitment has also led to the creation of new positions such as the Title IX Coordinator for Students in 2012. The creation of this position, currently held by Belinda Cortez Vazquez, an Associate Dean of Students in the University for Student Affairs, goes beyond federal requirements, which require only a Title IX Coordinator for the University, a position held by Aneesah Ali, Associate Provost and Affirmative Action Officer. By adding a coordinator focused on students, we can provide a dedicated resource to ensure students’ Title IX rights.

 

Our commitment also demands that we regularly re-evaluate our student disciplinary processes and update our policies, as we did in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011, and as undertaken again this academic year. In 2007, in part in response to concerns voiced by students like you, the University adopted the current Sexual Assault Policy, which was previously encompassed within the Sexual Harassment policy. Similarly in 2011, the disciplinary process was modified to align with requirements set out by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in its “Dear Colleague Letter.” The result made it more equitable for all participants as both complainants and accused individuals now have full access to the entire process, all evidence, and details of the outcome not limited by federal laws.

 

Currently underway, as Provost Thomas Rosenbaum and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Karen Warren Coleman shared with the campus leaders recently, are plans to consider further modifications to our processes and adopt best practices in two significant ways.  One involves the creation of a dedicated specialist role to investigate complaints of unlawful discrimination and harassment perpetrated by students, including sexual misconduct, under the leadership of the Dean of the Students in the University. The second would lead to the establishment of a University-wide disciplinary committee, composed of faculty, students, and staff with specific preparation for hearing these cases. These proposed modifications are currently in the final stages of review, with a goal for implementation by July 1. These proposed changes reflect the experiences and advice of student advocates, faculty who sit on disciplinary committees, and deans who have highlighted the need for special expertise in cases of sexual misconduct and discrimination, all pointing toward the need for University-wide processes.

 

As you noted, the University was informed in mid-January that the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education wished to visit campus to review certain documents, meet with selected focus groups of students, and interview staff to discuss their experiences with the University’s policies and practices regarding sexual misconduct. Building on a history of productive collaboration with OCR, the University has made every effort to comply with the spirit and letter of this inquiry, and is committed to incorporating any OCR findings into its ongoing efforts to provide for the best possible campus climate.

 

Again, thank you for writing and giving us a chance to update you on these important activities.  Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns, or if you wish to share your ideas about additional resources and practices that the University could bring to bear on this important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

Michele

 

Michele A. Rasmussen

Dean of Students in the University

Campus & Student Life

The University of Chicago

5801 South Ellis Avenue, Suite 203

Chicago, IL 60637

http://csl.uchicago.edu/