Stamping Out Sexual Violence

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.

15 thoughts on “Stamping Out Sexual Violence”

  1. Mr. Roth-
    I am sympathetic to the fact that as Wesleyan’s president you must choose your words carefully and abide by institutional processes to make decisions. That said, this blog is exactly the kind of administrative self-excusing rhetoric that I think impedes addressing a very grave issue. The fact is that this is the second very disturbing frat-related rape that we know of at Wesleyan in the past few years. It also seems clear that the actions taken by the administration and Board of Trustees in response to the last rape, which took place several years ago at Beta, were wholly inadequate in preventing a re-occurrence at another fraternity.

    Mr. Roth, over the past several days many Wesleyan alumni have asked themselves, “Do I really want my daughter to go to a school where she might be raped?” It is a fair question. I urge you and the Board of Trustees to stop patting yourselves on the back for all the ineffective measures you have put in place thus far and make some bold decisions to protect the young women who attend Wesleyan. We are all watching.

  2. I am the cofounder of Safecity which crowdmap anonymous personal stories of sexual abuse and harassment.

    I am currently in Philadelphia attending an accelerator program to strengthen our initiative and take it to the next level including improving our app, making the communication and networking platform stronger so that the community can draw on each other for support and help. We are also looking to do a pilot on one of the university campuses in Philly but I would be happy to do one on your campus.

    Look forward to helping you stamp out sexual violence.

  3. The same trouble spots that existed on campus thirty years ago… yet you haven’t done anything? Eliminate fraternities at Wesleyan. They are not necessary and they are a net negative. Yes, you’ll lose some rich old white guy money. Thats not what Wesleyan is about, is it, rich old white guy money? Or maybe it is.

  4. Could you, Mr Roth, or someone in the administration please explain for us why only University institutions are brought to bear on as violent, repugnant a crime as rape rather than the expected police and courts who rightly apply justice in every other case of rape in our society? That the offender who raped a young woman in a room filled with party going watchers received merely expulsion and not arrest, that he has never been on trial, is bizarre and very disturbing to many of us alumni. Many of us feel that this outcome is part of what gives young men a mind set that rape may not carry very severe consequences for them. We do feel that much stronger remedies are in order; remedies the country at large has used for years. Remedies self-contained institutions such as the Catholic Church, have also long avoided. Wesleyan has long been prized by it’s alumni for its incisive and realistic view of the world. That it appears to avoid a real world relationship to crime on its campus undoes this sterling reputation and renders Wesleyan just another common place institution. That must change. And for the simple moral truth that it is the right thing to do, Wesleyan’s culture around such crime must change.

  5. Rape happens on every college campus. In that, sadly, Wesleyan does not stand out. Our society continues to raise sons who think ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and who feel entitled to treat women as objects.
    However, reading in a CNN report that there is a fraternity on the Wesleyan campus that students call the “Rape Factory” leaves me thunderstruck. As a parent of daughters who are now considering where to apply to college, Wesleyan just moved off the list.

  6. Mr. Roth — I am appalled at the lack of sensitivity on the part of Wesleyan, that an institution which used to be lampooned as the home of Political Correctness could have turned its back on these women altogether. Certainly it is not enough to warn people to stay away from certain fraternities. I am ashamed of my alma-mater for blaming the victims. The money-pipeline of the fraternities as far as the endowment is no reason to excuse the behaviour of the members. Making them “off-campus” does not exonerate Wesleyan in any way.
    The sense of entitlement among these frat boys is a slap in the face of the Wesleyan community, which used to be a place where people felt safe to explore themselves in a multitude of ways. No woman is the property of any man, no matter how entitled he feels to her. Blaming the young women who were raped is beyond the pale; what happened to educating men not to be rapists?
    I have been watching the decline of standards for some time now, and perhaps it is just that I have become middle-aged and crotchety, but I would never send my child to Wesleyan now despite my own experiences there. You can count me among the many alumni who will stop contributing at all to the Annual Fund because of your inadequate responses to the very real crimes of rape perpetuated by students both on and off campus.

  7. The March 2014 issue of The Atlantic has an article called “The Fraternity Problem” that includes an balanced analysis of another rape on the Wesleyan campus in Beta House. The analysis is detailed and extensive, and begins on page 86. After I read the article I tried to find out what was happening by posting to the Alumni page which promised an answer within two days. It never happened. I would think I could have gotten a specific answer to a specific question, particularly since the article said that Wesleyan blamed the victim for getting herself in the situation.

  8. President Roth –
    What you have written looks good on paper, as does the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response website. However, it seems that there is far more on the response end than on the prevention end — and relationship education only goes so far. Clearly there is a need for more effective prevention strategies, as well as culture change both on campus and in the ways these issues are handled by the administration. There is no doubt that this issue is not limited to fraternities. However, this pattern of high profile cases involving frats (as well as decades of anecdotal and lower profile incidents) cannot be ignored.

    As a member of Alpha Delta Phi, I recognize the value of the community-within-the-community, the opportunity to enrich campus life with cultural and social events, to develop important living skills and be part of a multi-generational network. I know how hard it would be to see the chapter closed. But I think it is time to examine the fiscal and legal relationships between the University and the fraternity houses – such that all houses (indeed, all university affiliated organizations) be held accountable to both University and legal standards. And then it is the responsibility of the administration to hold all houses and organizations accountable. Period. No matter who their alumni are. If the alumni of those houses care so much, then they should be much more involved in oversight of the conditions of their houses and the activities in them.

    I think it is important to state (because someone has to) that while all intimate violence is to be deplored, the vast majority of incidents are perpetrated by men. All-male environments such as male fraternities, sports teams and other organizations (of which there is often considerable overlap) are often the breeding ground for the attitudes that devalue women, and encourage predatory behavior. Any prevention strategy that does not address the gendered nature of these crimes and issues of masculinity will not be effective. Honestly, in my opinion, it is well past time for communities of men to take leadership in this struggle. We women have been fighting this for decades.

    I hope that you and the Trustees consider the possibility that a strong public statement accompanied by real actions on the ground will do more to attract students than glossing over “unfortunate incidents”. For every prospective student you might lose by having a strong and public policy and more proactive prevention strategy, you would stand to attract many more students interested in a safe and supportive learning environment. If there are alumni donors whose support of the University is dependent upon excusing these crimes, Wesleyan does not need them. It is not worth being held hostage. In the current economy and working as I do in non-profits, I have precious little money to spare. However, if I saw Wesleyan taking serious action to prevent sexual assaults, I would volunteer to do outreach to other feminist and progressive alumni to replace support lost. I imagine others would join me.

    I graduated in 1986, Mr. Roth – and my contemporaries and I were fighting this same battle back then. It is time to look to communities that have had positive change and results, and find out what they did to get those results. Find out what has worked elsewhere and try it at Wesleyan. Get student input. Get alumni input. Find the national experts in the field. Whatever it takes. If that includes reining in or even abolishing fraternities, be willing to “go there”.

    Thank you for your consideration. As Melinda says – we are watching. We all want to be proud of Wesleyan.

  9. President Roth – As an alumnus of Wesleyan, I would like to add my expression of concern about Wesleyan’s handling, or perhaps mishandling, of this situation specifically and of the fraternity problem in general. As Bennett Schneider and others have pointed out, mere expulsion is far too lenient a punishment for such a heinous act. By not referring this matter to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, Wesleyan is in danger of having committed obstruction of justice — if not in a legal sense than in a moral one. Furthermore, this is the act of more than just the one individual, the entire fraternity of Psi U bears responsibility as does the entire fraternity system at Wesleyan. If only a fraction of the media reports on this incident — and the earlier one at Beta — are true then Wesleyan has fundamentally failed in its responsibilities to its students.

  10. Wesleyan’s policy, and more importantly, its practice is to “encourage complainants to pursue criminal action for incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct that may also be crimes under Connecticut law.” We work with survivors in each and every instance so that they can make that important decision and, if they do choose to proceed with law enforcement, we work with them. In this particular case, Middletown Police have issued a statement indicating that their investigation is ongoing.
    William Holder ’75
    Director of University Communications
    Wesleyan University

  11. I think it should be pointed out that in the Beta incident, outlined in all its cruelty in the recent Atlantic Monthly article, the perpetrator was arrested by Middletown police, tried and convicted of a lesser included offfense and, in fact did serve a year and a half in jail as a result of his crime. As for the Psi U incident, the MPD was notified and recently put out an statement that it is still investigating the case. I would think, however, the principal person who should be in charge at all times of making the decision whether to press charges, and ultimately testify in criminal court, is be the survivor herself.

  12. Expulsion? Sexual assault is a crime and must be treated as such. Schools need to work with law enforcement and prosecutors so they are not sending known perpetrators to another school or into the world with impunity, especially when we know they are most often repeat offenders. Wesleyan needs to stress the importance of reporting, even if no legal action is taken so if other student survivors come forth, assailants can be tracked for further investigation.

  13. Eliminate fraternities…there’s no need for them and they clearly provide an environment where these kind of incidents can easily occur. Many schools have made the decision to move beyond this archaic system of inequity and elitism on their campuses. There’s no reason Wesu can’t do the same. As an ex-Alpha Delt member, who loved my time living in the house, I recognize when the time has come to make a change. Check-out the data regarding issues of violence and abuse as they relate to fraternities and I bet you’ll see good reason to abolish them on the Wesleyan campus, now! Thank you for taking an educated and evolved stand on this issue.

  14. President Roth–
    There is no better time than now to show the right blend of leadership and compassion and simply close the last three fraternities as of the end of this school year. Frats have been an anachronism at Wesleyan ever since we attended. No matter how hard the University, the national fraternities and the fraternity members themselves have tried to end fraternity house rapes, we still have these horror stories. Even one more is far too many. Fraternities are a part of our tradition that we need to put in the same social trash can where Wesleyan has previously put racial segregation, single-sex education and homophobia. Wesleyan can’t claim to be the leader of the pack in national liberal arts as long as these out-of-control institutions are allowed to remain on our campus. Moreover, expelling only one student if indeed there was an audience is unacceptable. We need to send stronger messages than a sole expulsion, just as it would be wrong to accuse only one member of a lynch mob with murder. The only way we can prevent this situation from recurrence is total abolition of the residential fraternity at Wesleyan. Please think this through and take action.

  15. President Roth – I would like to add my name to those who have so eloquently expressed concern about this particular incident and about addressing sexual violence at the college. Please be aware the I and many other alumni are watching this issue quite carefully.

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