Town Hall Remarks of Lori Beth Way, Senior Advisor, Academic Affairs

Cutler Majestic Theater
October 21, 2013

As prepared for delivery.

Thank you President Pelton and thank all of you for being here.

I’ve been asked to speak because before coming to Emerson, I was the Project Director of a three-year U.S. Department of Justice grant to reduce and respond to sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence, in a consortium of two colleges. In that role, I was part of a national network of schools that were working to improve their responses to student survivors.

As the President noted, there is a grassroots movement of sexual assault survivors and allies who are asking their colleges and universities to closely consider their policies, procedures, services, and prevention efforts. Survivors are finding their voices and working hard to help their schools improve. That’s a good thing. Across the nation, these brave students should be supported.

In the last week, I’ve talked to faculty, students, and staff who are unclear about the requirements of Title IX. They’ve asked me. “What does Title IX compliance require?” “How can we do better?”  A repeated refrain was “How can I help?”  So a good first step is to come to some common understanding of the goals of Title IX.

In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights notified colleges and universities that according to a variety of court cases and their own current interpretation of Title IX, sexual harassment includes sexual violence. According to the federal guidance, “the Sexual Harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination.” We can’t learn if we don’t feel safe.

The major Title IX requirements include a notice of nondiscrimination, a staff member identified as the Title IX Coordinator, and fair and equitable grievance processes for those who bring complaints and for the other party. As you would expect, there are many components to each of these requirements.

Some of them include that the inquiry must be “Adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of a complaint” and that there are clear campus policies regarding reports of sexual misconduct.

The Office of Civil Rights also recommends education and prevention activities. As we think about education at Emerson College, we should consider both prevention and ways to best respond to survivors. A student survivor of sexual assault is most likely to tell a friend first. Given that, we need to help students support one another as well.

We all need to know how we can respond in a caring and respectful way to students reporting sexual misconduct.

President Pelton says, “society looks to colleges and universities to solve the country’s most pressing problems.” In the case of Title IX, the federal government has required colleges and universities will to lead on matters related sexual assault.

Sexual assault happens everywhere. The National Institute of Justice tells us that 1 in 5 women will be the victim of a completed or attempted sexual assault during her college years. Men are also sexually assaulted. The statistics demand attention.

Society, including the criminal justice system, has not adequately addressed the problem. And, so, with the help of concerned students, colleges and universities are taking the lead in reducing and responding to sexual assault. With your help, we will do so here at Emerson College.

As the President announced, we will have the benefit of an external review that will consider Emerson’s previous responses to complaints. In their work, they will also conduct an audit of our current policies and procedures. Additionally, there is a great deal of guidance available through other colleges’ experiences.

Over the next several months Vice President Spears and I will work with a taskforce of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to see how we can improve our prevention education, make training more widespread, and create a culture of consent that respects people’s rights to their own bodies. This requires collaboration between a large number of parties – the Emerson Police Department, the Counseling Center, Residence Life Staff, faculty, students, and really all of us.

Our first major response has been to move forward with the hire a trained advocate who will be dedicated to supporting for students reporting incidents of sexual assault.

We’ll also be creating a website that will track the taskforce’s progress as well as make resources available to you.

My past experience has shown me that some colleges can be resistant to change regarding preventing and responding to sexual violence. We are not. Since March we have been making a variety of improvements and we’ll continue to get better.

Together, our way forward to reduce and respond to sexual misconduct will be consistent with best practices and be distinctly Emersonian. Thank you very much.