The following is a response crafted by the Washington State University English faculty regarding the revelation that WSU is among 55 schools currently under Title IX investigation over the handling of sexual assault allegations. The administration reported and responded to the probe on May 1, and The Seattle Times covered it on May 2. I am proud to be part of a faculty who is passionate about ending both sexual violence and the secrecy surrounding it. Both problems are all too common on American college campuses.
Dear President Floyd,
The U.S. Department of Education recently released a list of universities under investigation for their handling of sexual assault allegations by students. We were dismayed to find Washington State University on that list, and as faculty members we are ready and committed to transforming our campus and its culture.
The large number of sexual assaults on American campuses—the vast majority of which are unreported—has devastating consequences for not only individual victims but also the campus community as a whole. According to the AAUP’s report on Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures, co-authored by Professor Donna L. Potts of the WSU English Department, “Sexual assault may affect students’ academic achievement as well as their capacity to contribute to the campus community. [...] Along with decline in academic performance and social withdrawal, long-term outcomes may include increased risk of depression, substance abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, personality disorders, and suicide.” These consequences are only magnified when victims are met with official disregard.
We therefore applaud the administration’s decision to comply with the investigation, provide information, meet with representatives, participate in OCR’s “voluntary resolution” process, and state unequivocally that WSU “does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct.” We hope that WSU can immediately implement procedures identified in new federal guidelines for responding to campus sexual assault: adopting effective prevention programs, gathering more accurate data on campus assaults, and striving for greater transparency. We would also like to see an expansion of bystander training (such as WSU’s Green Dot program) and continuing efforts to ensure that officers who respond to allegations are properly trained to do so.
None of these measures, however, will be as effective without the full engagement of WSU’s faculty. As faculty members, we are especially well-positioned to lead this fight against sexual assault, and we are committed to doing so. Those of us in English, for example, teach the majority of first-year students, and we are ready to explore co-curricular opportunities to combat directly not only the problem of sexual assault but the larger social and campus culture that enables it. Along with colleagues in other departments, many of us regularly research and teach about issues of gender and sexuality, sexual violence, and prejudice, and we are ready to work to improve the materials and other educational experiences—speakers, readings, campus conversations—that address these issues.
We are especially committed to moving outside our classrooms and working with our counterparts in Student Affairs and advisors and members of student groups to develop a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Along with the Dean of Student Affairs and CCGRS, we have arranged for Laura Gray-Rosendale, author of an award-winning memoir on her rape, College Girl: A Memoir, to come to campus next year to speak and conduct workshops.
We are ready to work with you, Provost Bernardo, and all other members of the university community—faculty, students, and staff—to transform the climate at Washington State. Changing the culture of assault and silence demands the attention of all of us—men and women; faculty, students, and staff; and individuals of all sexualities.
Anything less than our full commitment to create an assault-free campus would effectively disempower and victimize the members of our community who have experienced assault. It would, in short, make us complicit, and we will not be complicit.
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