This week we learned that a survivor of a sexual assault had filed a lawsuit against the Psi Upsilon fraternity at Wesleyan, some of its individual members and its national organization. We had not spoken publicly about this matter out of concern for the survivor’s privacy. Now that civil proceedings have commenced, on behalf of the university community, I want to express our horror at this shameful assault. Our internal investigation of the incident, which took place last spring at an event held in violation of university regulations, led to the perpetrator’s dismissal from the university and sanctions against the fraternity and individual members of it.
At Wesleyan there are three residential fraternities. Their buildings, housing a total of 67 students, are owned by their respective organizations. While these fraternities have had some autonomy, all have seen increased scrutiny over the past few years. In the short term, we have focused our attention on improving the safety of these spaces for all students who use them. On a more general level, we created a Title IX Task Force led by the Board of Trustees in coordination with our Vice-President for Equity and Inclusion, which is working to ensure gender equity throughout the Wesleyan educational experience. In addition, over the next several months we will be gathering information to present to the Board as it considers what role, if any, residential fraternities will have on our campus in the future.
Sexual assaults on college campuses are not, of course, only a fraternity issue. Over several years, Wesleyan has worked to reduce the incidence of assaults on campus, support those who have been assaulted, dismiss those who have been found guilty, and to generally raise awareness about these issues. As I have noted, although at Wesleyan there are usually only a handful of reports of sexual violence each year, each one is extremely painful and leaves a scar on the individual and on the community. Furthermore, we know how under-reported these crimes are across the country in general and on college campuses in particular. Michael Whaley, the vice president for student affairs, issues an annual report on “Wesleyan’s Response to Sexual Violence,” and additional information is available on the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response website. Resources and programs dedicated to this problem include:
- Wesleyan’s Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator is a full-time member of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services staff and serves as the point person for coordinating support for survivors of sexual assault. She works closely with the Sexual Assault Response Team – a group of trained staff and faculty who provide support for survivors.
- We Speak, We Stand, Wesleyan’s Community of Care program, provides bystander intervention training to empower bystanders to intervene in situations involving such issues as high-risk alcohol use and sexual violence. Sexual violence is a complex and multi-faceted societal issue, and therefore requires the attention of all campus constituents.
- “We Speak, We Stand” also leads mandatory sessions on sexual violence at new student orientation. Subsequently, new students convene for small residentially based discussions about sexual assault and alcohol use.
- Wesleyan annually makes its policies regarding sexual violence clear to all students, faculty, and staff through communications from the Dean of Students and the Vice President for Student Affairs.
- The Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator and Director of WesWELL have worked with student groups on a healthy relationship workshop series, a consent campaign, a “Red Flag” campaign to address dating violence, and several support group for survivors of sexual assault.
- Wesleyan continues to work with student organizations, including fraternities, on the safety of their programs for all students.
- The university annually evaluates its own efforts to assess efficacy and ensure that everything possible is being done to provide a safe environment for everyone on campus. We want all members of our community to be confident in the care we take in dealing with any reports and in the fairness of our procedures.
Sexual assault at colleges and universities is a national problem, and it is important to raise awareness about these heinous crimes. On our campus, we have had our consciousness raised concerning this issue, but each incident is still agonizing – traumatic for survivors and painful for the whole community. As president of alma mater and as a parent, nothing disturbs me more than these attacks. My heart aches for those who have been victimized, and I work to ensure that we do everything we can to support them.
The great majority of Wesleyans are united in wanting to create a campus unencumbered by sexual violence. In concert with our community, I am determined to explore all avenues for changing our culture to stamp out sexual assault. I will work together with all university constituencies to continue to improve our ability to care for survivors, vigorously pursue perpetrators, and create a positive campus climate in which sexual violence has no place.