The University’s Annual Sexual Violence Report and Next Steps for Equity and Inclusion was released in a campus-wide email on Friday, Sept. 16.

Written by Vice President for Equity & Inclusion/Title IX Officer Antonio Farias, the annual update discussed the 2015 sexual assault report and continued measures to prevent sexual assault; the formation of a new Equity & Inclusion Steering Committee; and a new program to increase faculty and staff diversity.

“The next steps to promote equity and prevent sexual assault include infusing that language and information into as many conversations as possible,” Farias wrote in an email to The Argus. “Critical to preventing all forms of sexual misconduct including harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault is continued conversation and preventative education.”

Although there was a decrease in reports of sexual violence at the University in 2015, there has been an increase in the number of initiatives to prevent sexual violence.

“In addition to the online Haven program for all incoming students, we are working to have as many students participate in Bystander Intervention as possible,” Farias wrote. “The Residence Life staff have been provided more resources than in the past in terms of both training and passive education to expand the conversation to include consent and communication as well as healthy relationships. WSA is currently implementing the No Red Zone campaign, which we applaud and with whom we will be working in partnership.”

Farias expressed concern over the decreased reports of sexual violence over the last year.

“It takes significant time to change the societal culture we are a part of,” Farias wrote. “While seemingly counterintuitive, increased numbers are a positive sign that the climate for survivors is getting better as they feel supported enough to come forward and seek services as well as adjudication of their cases.”

President Michael Roth agreed with Farias’s sentiment regarding fewer sexual assaults reported.

“We see this in many schools around the country, some schools have no sexual assault, or so they say, which just means nobody’s reporting,” Roth said. “So there’s no comfort in having high reports, or high numbers, or high incidents. It’s good that people feel they can report, but it’s terrible that incidents are taking place. We continue to work with student groups that tell us how we need to a better job supporting people who have been assaulted, who’ve reported assaults. We continue to get advice about how we can have a more equitable procedure that finds people who are responsible, that deals with them appropriately, and also finds that some people aren’t responsible, people who have been accused. And then last is to raise awareness and create programs like the Bystander Intervention Program and others that reduce the likelihood of assault taking place.”

Another way in which the University is hoping to improve processes and procedures for sexual violence survivors is by ensuring that everyone has access to information for reporting and support services; helping survivors connect to support and resources without speaking to multiple people; and having a faculty and staff that know how to respond to information related to sexual misconduct.

“Constructive criticism is key to improving support at the same time we continue to shift a societal culture of disrespect and violence,” Farias wrote. “If you find yourself not thinking about how sexual violence has an impact on your life—that, dear Wesleyan community member, is your starting point—get educated and use that incredible brain and empathic heart to understand how your ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude contributes to the problem and more importantly, how you are the potential embodiment of the solution.”

According to Roth, the University also signed an accord with some groups in Middletown to make it easier to work with the criminal justice system when sexual assaults take place.

“Many students choose not to go to the criminal justice system because it can be a very challenging path on top of the awfulness of the event itself,” Roth said. “I’d like to see students who feel that that’s the appropriate path, to have the University’s support to do that with confidence and support. I don’t know there’s really more we can do, but just to make sure people are aware of the choices that they have. So in cases of rape, we can expel the student, but the criminal justice system can put that person in jail. In cases of rape, I’d like to see that person in jail, but that is up to the survivor of the assault, and we are conscious of the fact that it is up to that person if she or he wants to go ahead. Raising awareness of the issues so that students who are not directly involved in the incident can play a positive role in decreasing the likelihood of incidents taking place. Whether that’s men, women, everybody can play a role in stopping assaults from happening.”

Additionally, the update described the new Equity & Inclusion Steering Committee that will be building on the work of the Equity Task Force.

“The steering committee will review last semesters work, take in continual feedback from students, faculty, and staff, and begin the process of developing a timely work flow designed to address short, medium, and long term challenges to making Wesleyan a more equitable and inclusive educational environment for all,” Farias wrote.

The Steering Committee will consist of the Vice President for Equity & Inclusion, the faculty vice chair, the WSA president, and the chair of the Board of Trustees Campus Affairs Committee. The committee is currently looking for volunteers to work with them.

“We set up a Google form that lets the Wesleyan community members volunteer in areas where they feel they are best able to contribute,” Farias wrote. “No one on this campus has the luxury of loads of free time, so we’re asking you to prioritize your choices as I believe sweat equity is the catalyst for sustained change. So if you’re committed to change, step up and sign-up now.”

The University is also implementing a new program for opportunity hires that will help increase faculty and staff diversity.

“The Office for Equity & Inclusion is collaborating with both Human Resources and Academic Affairs to look at increasing the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce,” Farias wrote. “Part of this collaboration includes review of current practices, revision of these practices as needed, listening to ideas from current faculty and staff, and brainstorming new and innovative ways of outreach for each search process. Institutionally, we’ve begun to see successful changes in faculty hiring over the past few years, and that’s just the start of a long-term process of seeking, developing, and mentoring our increasingly diverse workforce.”

Though there is still much progress to be made surrounding sexual assault and discrimination, Farias is pleased by the members of the University community who are working to help end sexual assault and discrimination.

“If I’m pleased with anything, it’s with the relentless energy and activism around the elimination of sexual violence and identity-based discrimination that shows up in the overwhelming volunteerism of students, staff and faculty who serve on the Title IX Policy, Education, Core, Athletics, Student committees,” Farias wrote. “I’m also pleased with the WSA starting the year with the [No] Red Zone project. The reason we went with One Policy toward all forms of identity-based discrimination is because we want to see this level of engagement manifest to eliminate all forms of discrimination. My hope and the work I plan on for the coming year has to do with engaging in reparative work across all our communities, and encouraging the ‘generosity of spirit,’ that is one of our core values and should be our guiding beacon through whatever storms we encounter.”

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