The University Office of Equity and Inclusion released its Annual Report on Wesleyan’s Response to Sexual Violence on Friday, Oct. 3 via an email from Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias. The report provided data of cases of sexual violence reported to the University since fall 2009, as well as information about updated policies, upcoming work, and resources available to students.
The report notes a significant increase in reports of sexual violence over the past six years, from 3 reports in 2009 to 23 reports in the first half of 2014.
Farias asserted that this increase is due to improvement in reporting mechanisms on campus.
“The numbers as they were before were obviously under-reported,” Farias said. “We strongly believe that even where they are right now are still under-reported. Our professional belief is that we’re doing better in terms of the adjudication process, in terms of communicating to the students about what the process is like…. Also, the student activists are bringing much more awareness to the process.”
Ryden Nelson ’16, a member of the Feminist Co-op, stated he is pleased to see the number of reports rise.
“It’s very encouraging to see an increase in reporting,” Nelson said. “I’d like to think that this is due to a change in campus climate and because students feel encouraged by their community and friends to come forward. However, reporting is still very low. There are far more than 23 assaults on campus, but it still is a good sign because it will help educate the wider community that there really are a lot of people [experiencing sexual assault].”
In addition to showing the number of incidents reported to the University, the report notes that eight incidents in 2014 so far have “resulted in a campus hearing,” as opposed to three in 2009. The report also shows that four students in the first half of 2014 were “found responsible for violating University policy prohibiting sexual assault and sexual misconduct,” while the remaining four were found not responsible.
According to the report, three students in the first half of 2014 were “suspended or dismissed from the University as a hearing outcome.” Five students were suspended or dismissed in 2013 on these grounds—the highest number since 2009.
Nelson said that he is skeptical of the phrasing “students suspended or dismissed from the University as a hearing outcome” because of its ambiguity regarding the sanctions given to perpetrators.
Farias highlighted the importance of focusing on creating a culture of reporting.
“Culture of reporting eventually gets us to culture of eradication,” Farias said. “But we can’t just say, ‘We’re going to eradicate sexual violence in five years.’ We need a road map to there. The first road map is making sure that people come forward and report. Also, it’s not just the adjudication of what happens to the perpetrator, but it’s also about how the student gets made whole again.”
Various student groups on campus are actively involved in creating this culture and raising awareness of the issue with the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Caillin Puente ’15, co-chair of Students for Consent and Communication, stayed on campus over this past summer along with other students to work on a series of videos outlining the Title IX laws.
The report stated that the University intends to evaluate the current investigative approach for cases of sexual assault, develop educational programs, and reengage with the idea of having a unified policy to handle complaints and adjudication.
Farias and the Office of Equity and Inclusion are working to stop harassment, provide immediate support for victims, initiate preliminary investigations, and conduct campaigns against sexual assault at the University. Farias further described the goal of Title IX.
“The whole goal of Title IX, eliminating gender disparity and gender inequity, is to get you through this educational process,” Farias said. “It is to make sure that your educational experience isn’t derailed because of gender-based discrimination. Title IX is a much bigger umbrella than just sexual violence: it’s about gender equity.”
Despite the University’s efforts to increase transparency and facilitate communication with the students, various students voiced concerns regarding the report.
Isabel Alter ’17, a member of the Feminist Co-op, pointed to ambiguity in the language regarding how the University intends to improve the campus culture.
“They’re not saying what they’re actually going to do, so we have to wait and see what actually happens,” Alter said. “The fact that I’m someone who spends a lot of time doing activism around this and am committed to it, and yet I’m still very confused about a lot of what’s going on probably means that the information is not accessible enough.”
Alter further spoke to the potential for improvement in the accessibility of the reporting process.
“The fact that only 23 people reported [shows] that people don’t feel comfortable coming forward,” Alter said. “People should have choice in that, but I think the school discourages people from reporting. Even if it’s not intentional, the process is not easy for people to follow and a lot of times the information isn’t clear, which I think is why you see such low numbers.”
Puente is optimistic that the work of various student activist groups will improve the situation.
“I think it’s great that a lot of people are open to collaborating and that is what can make us even stronger,” Puente said. “The main thing that we’re always trying to work on is to not always reach to the same audience. If you’re trying to educate or run workshops, you want to try to get different cross sections of the university.”