Dear Williams Community,
I write, as I do each year, to update you on our work in sexual assault prevention and response and to report how our disciplinary processes and other accountability processes have been used over the previous year. (On the advice of the student members of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Group, SAPA, we present data from the previous year each spring.) Sexual assault is a very serious problem both nationally and at Williams. We must ensure that our support for survivors is helpful and easily accessible and that our processes for investigation and adjudication are fair, supportive, and effective. And, we must work relentlessly on prevention, doing everything we can to reduce the prevalence of assault on our campus until it ceases. Resources for those who have experienced assault are here and at the end of this letter.
It has been eleven months since Meg Bossong ’05 joined us as Williams’ first Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Her work in this time has been remarkable, and is far broader than I can convey fully here. Meg has worked to strengthen training for staff, faculty, and students, addressing both sexual assault and the related issues of stalking and relationship violence. She also led the development of the CASA (Community Attitudes about Sexual Assault) survey, which got broad response. The CASA assessed the prevalence of sexual assault, stalking, and relationship violence at Williams as well as the helpfulness and availability of support resources and the community’s understanding of our policies. Nearly 1,400 students completed the extensive survey, and about 200 more answered some of its questions. Meg will soon share with the community the initial findings from that survey.
Meg’s work is done in deep collaboration with the many staff, students and faculty who work daily to make our campus safer. While there are far too many individuals involved in these efforts to name, SAPA (which includes Donna Denelli-Hess, Beverly Williams and justin adkins, as well as many students including those from RASAN, Men for Consent, the Feminist Alliance the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, College Council, the Neighborhood Leadership teams, the JA Advisory Board and MinCO) has been a crucial partner in this year’s work.
This spring Meg is also leading a review of our reporting, investigation, and adjudication processes. These processes were completely revised through the work of the students and staff of SAPA over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. The changes we implemented included using a professional investigator for every case (so that complainants, respondents, and witnesses are all questioned by someone with deep expertise in doing this work), as well as creating a hearing process in which students who are raising or responding to a concern never have to discuss their experiences in front of other students or their professors. (For more information on our current policies, see titleix.williams.edu or the dean’s office website.) Now that we have had these new processes in place for more than a year, we will be assessing them carefully and inviting feedback to learn how we might improve them further.
Over the 2013-2014 school year, the college received 14 reports of sexual assault, as well as one of dating violence and stalking. Of these 15 cases, five were brought forward for adjudication within the college’s disciplinary process. Four students were found responsible for violations of the college’s sexual misconduct policy, and one was found responsible for violations involving dating violence or stalking. All five of these students were separated from campus. Two students were expelled, and three were suspended. The average length of suspension was two years. One student brought a case forward through the police and the district attorney’s offices. Ten students who reported assaults during 2013-14 have chosen not to participate in disciplinary or legal processes as of this time. Of those, five worked with the Dean’s Office to arrange accommodations to increase their well-being on campus, including academic arrangements, housing changes, no-contact orders, and advisory conversations. Such accommodations are available to students who report sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking or dating violence whether or not they pursue the college disciplinary process or the legal process. (For more information on when the college may need to pursue disciplinary processes even if the survivor chooses not to do so, please see http://titleix.williams.edu/confidentiality-privacy/.)
The incidents reported by students varied in their recency. Some were reported immediately, while others were reported months or years later. We recognize that reporting an assault is difficult, and there are many reasons that students may choose not to report right away. Williams can proceed with a disciplinary process at any time, so long as the student whose behavior is the subject of the investigation has not yet graduated at the time incident is reported.
The numbers are deeply troubling. That 15 students report being harmed in this way at Williams in a single year appalls me. We also know that—due to the difficulties of reporting—this is likely only a small fraction of the number of sexual assaults that actually took place at Williams in 2013-2014. (Nationally, and at Williams, only 5 to 10 percent of assaults are reported.) A very preliminary review of the data from the CASA survey suggests that since coming to Williams, approximately 60 current students have experienced rape, and 180 current students have experienced sexual assault. This prevalence of harm in our community is completely unacceptable.
Using the results of the CASA and disciplinary process review, as well as continued study of best practices nationally, we must move forward with strengthening our prevention and response work. Among our current areas of emphasis is reducing the barriers to reporting, both by making the processes and outcomes as private, fair, and supportive as possible and by ensuring that students have good access to information about the options available to them. It’s only by ensuring accessible and effective reporting and accountability processes that we can connect sexual assault survivors with the resources that will best support recovery and hold accountable those who harm others in the community.
Many people at Williams are involved in sexual assault prevention and response. In the issue of Williams Magazine published later this month some of the students, staff, and faculty who do this work are interviewed. That article, “Standing Strong,” makes clear the commitment of so many at Williams to ending sexual violence. I’m grateful to all those who give their time, energy, wisdom, and passion to making our community safer.
Dean of the College and Professor of Physics