To the Lafayette Community:
In my July 6 memo in response to social media posts regarding sexual misconduct and sexual harassment at Lafayette, I committed to updating you on actions we have taken over the past academic year, and specific steps that we will take in the future, to eliminate sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, behaviors which have no place on our campus or in our community.
Campus climate regarding sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and gender equity
The College has been working with multiple committees and organizations over the last several years to update our sexual misconduct and sexual harassment processes in light of changing regulations, and to ensure a transparent, equitable, and supportive response to reports of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.
In a 2019 meeting on campus climate, students expressed several concerns about College processes related to sexual misconduct. Students felt an absence of personal support in navigating complex processes amidst emotional trauma; they noted that some cases took a long time to investigate, increasing the disruption for all concerned; and they worried that public sharing of sensitive information served as a disincentive to reporting incidents.
Students shared specific suggestions for how to address these issues, and we have followed up on several of their recommendations. Students requested a sexual violence advocate to help them navigate the processes involved in reporting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. We have recently posted such a position in Campus Life, and intend to hire a staff member with a background in social work and certification as a sexual violence advocate. This staff member will serve as an advocate for students and also enhance our ability to provide on-going training for faculty and staff to address issues of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
At the same time, students also requested that conduct statistics regarding sexual misconduct and sexual harassment be placed online, and that an annual report from the Title IX Office disclose the number of such reports, investigations, and outcomes that took place under our stated policies and procedures. This annual report was completed for the 2018-19 academic year and posted online; the 2019-20 annual report will be published in the coming weeks. Because students expressed legitimate concerns about the length of time required to complete some investigations, in 2019-20 we also hired additional specially trained investigators to work on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment cases.
The College has also taken some important steps in supporting gender equity more broadly. In Fall 2019, we filled a new faculty position to expand the LGBTQ+ related curriculum in Women’s and Gender Studies, and the change of the name of the program to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies reflects the broadened offerings. We added gender-neutral options in all housing tiers and a process for first-year students to select a gender-neutral housing option. We also added gender-neutral restrooms in many places across campus, and implemented a preferred first name option in official College records.
Requirements under the law
In considering ways to improve our processes, we recognize the importance of ensuring that the community understands the legal obligations the College must adhere to when reporting and investigating allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
Under the Clery Act, the College is required to make publicly available a crime log that lists the nature of reported crimes; the date, time, general location of the crimes; and the disposition of the complaint, if known. This includes allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. The names of victims and other identifying information are withheld as confidential; the specific location of the offense may be withheld from the crime log if divulging that information could potentially identify the victim. We note that many have requested that we omit the dates and times of reported sexual assaults, recognizing that even the date of a report can lead to speculation regarding the involved persons. Unfortunately, omitting this information from the crime log would place us in violation of the law. We were pleased to learn that as a result of recent discussions, The Lafayette plans to omit these kinds of details from the reports that they publish based on the Public Safety crime log.
Regarding investigations into allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, if the person reporting the incident under the College’s policies requests anonymity or asks that a report not be pursued, the Director of Educational Equity and Title IX Coordinator considers that request in the context of the College’s responsibility to provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment for all members of the College community. Factors influencing such a decision include: whether the reported behavior involved the use of a weapon; the risk posed to any individual or to the campus community by not proceeding with an investigation, including the risk of additional violence; and whether there have been other reports of misconduct or harassment involving the same individual. We recognize that students have expressed concerns regarding investigations moving forward without their consent, but investigations may nevertheless be warranted under certain circumstances.
Strengthening College processes
It is clear from many personal testimonies on Instagram that student exchanges with some College staff left them feeling unsupported. The College may be limited in our ability to respond to anonymous reports. Students can formally file a complaint against a staff or faculty member for behavior that violates College policy or the law by contacting the Title IX Coordinator; the Dean of the Faculty (faculty); or Human Resources (staff).
As a reminder, students have a variety of options to report other students for violations of College policy and/or the law. Students can contact the Title IX Coordinator, an RA, submit a conduct report, or contact Public Safety.
We are committed to taking the following steps to address general concerns about campus climate and specific issues that have been raised about the College’s handling of instances of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct:
We will strive to clarify and improve our systems for addressing instances of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. At the same time, we know that the most lasting change we can make is to change aspects of the culture that may foster gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
The campus climate belongs to all of us and we must work together to create the change we seek. Students are already playing an important role, through PASA (Pards Against Sexual Assault) and other organizations, in working to improve community understanding of these issues. Faculty have direct influence over College policies, within the structure of federal guidelines, and both staff and faculty serve a valuable role by agreeing to serve on conduct committees or to be trained to serve as advisers to students involved in hearings. While I understand why the strongest call is on the administration to lead change, we must also call on the commitment of all members of our community to work together to end gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
The administration is steadfastly committed to working with students, faculty, staff, and alumni to promote a safe, equitable, and inclusive environment for all. Thank you for your support of these efforts.
Alison R. Byerly, President