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Sexual Assault Policies and Practices

September 18, 2014

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

The issue of sexual misconduct on college and university campuses is receiving a great deal of public attention, and rightly so. In August, I participated in a White House-sponsored conference call for college presidents about sexual assault awareness and prevention initiatives. This is an important and timely national conversation, and one that is informing our understanding of safety policies and practices for all members of the Smith College community.

I write to share with you some background on the systems we have in place to respond effectively to reports of sexual misconduct, as well as to inform you of next steps. It is important to recognize that Smith students, faculty and staff have been working for a number of years to strengthen our efforts to protect students from sexual assault, and that we continue to do so.

Background

In 2011, the United States Department of Education issued an advisory letter on sexual misconduct. In response to the recommendations contained in that letter, we convened a Sexual Assault Response Team at Smith College. The following is a summary of work completed to date:

  • review of policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct reporting, including procedures for both student and faculty/staff reporters;
  • launch of a Sexual Assault Resources and reporting page on our website (www.smith.edu/sao/sexualassault.php);
  • publication of information about the Smith College Title IX coordinator, and their role in the reporting process;
  • development and publication of an online reporting form for victims of sexual misconduct, and provided links to online resources around sexual misconduct and reporting;
  • posting of a workflow to help victims understand the communication process and the campus roles and responsibilities in a sexual misconduct report;
  • implementation of an annual sexual harassment education program delivered online to all new students (including graduate students) and in workshop form to campus student leaders; and
  • delivery of a bystander education program to student affairs leaders. We are working on a campus wide bystander training program to help campus community members better understand their roles and responsibilities when they witness incidents of sexual misconduct.

Next Steps

Moving forward, we have engaged the services of the law firm of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, experts in the field of sexual misconduct prevention, to review our campus policies and practices related to sexual misconduct. The Pepper Hamilton team members have conducted similar policy reviews at a number of our peer institutions, including Amherst College. They will be on campus on September 30 and October 1 to meet with students, faculty, and staff.

Their charge is to offer recommendations to improve our response to reported incidents of sexual misconduct, and strengthen our efforts to prevent sexual assault at Smith College, and for those who participate in Smith College international programs, school-sponsored placements, and other student activities. During their visit, the Pepper Hamilton team members will hold an open meeting for all members of the Smith community on Wednesday, October 1 from 3-4 p.m in the School for Social Work conference room on the second floor of Lilly Hall.

Once I have received and reviewed their report, I will appoint a Campus Sexual Assault Working Group to offer recommendations on this issue. In addition, over the next few months we will:

  • provide refresher training to those on campus who investigate cases of sexual misconduct;
  • work with our training partner United Educators to ensure all faculty and staff complete an online sexual harassment training program;
  • pursue a memorandum of agreement to formalize our information sharing relationship with the Northampton Police Department;
  • continue to review our study abroad programs to ensure that appropriate resources are available to students who experience or witness sexual misconduct in the course of a study abroad experience;
  • build on existing Five Colleges collaborations to share information, resources, and best practices; and
  • offer our bystander training program to a wider campus audience.

There will be opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to share their perspectives and offer suggestions to support this work. As we proceed, I want to thank Dean of Students Julie Ohotnicky and Associate Vice President for Human Resources/Interim Title IX Coordinator Larry Hunt for their leadership in this work. I also want to thank all the students, faculty, and staff who have contributed to our policy and training efforts thus far as well as those who will continue to do so.

Sincerely,

Kathleen McCartney
President