Inspired by the courage of recent campus movements, I would like to bring attention to the specific issue of sexual misconduct on campus. Students and faculty have raised concern with current implementation and communication of policy. OnFebruary 1, faculty of the Sociology, Social, Anthropology, and Gender Studies departments at SU wrote a “Dear Colleagues” letter as a call to action for amending SU’s sexual misconduct policy. The letter outlined specific complaints with the mandatory reporting policy, questioning its ability to meet the needs of survivors and proposing survivor-centric alternatives and prioritization of access to resources and preventative education. Sexual misconduct is defined as an issue of sexual discrimination because survivors have unequal access to education in a hostile environment where space is shared with their accused attacker based on Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendment Act. If a school does not protect a survivor’s right to equal access to education, the student can file a Title IX complaint to the federal government. An interdisciplinary approach to sexual misconduct policy at SU is essential because faculty from multiple disciplines possess expertise and insight that can contribute to a holistic interpretation of policy to better support survivors in the response process.
Three months elapsed without a response from administration to the faculty letter. On April 27, 2016, I attended the SGSU Representative Assembly meeting where the Title IX Coordinator Andrea Katahira presented her rebuttal statement to the faculty letter and answered questions regarding policy and practice. Katahira emphasized the need for current reporting policies to provide information to survivors. She stated that the objective was not to force students into investigative processes until they are ready. However, when there is a threat or when the accused assailant has been accused before, Katahira admits that protecting the community may create the need for investigation. I agree with Katahira that when there is a known threat to the immediate safety of students, it is appropriate to take action. However, survivors need to know that their rights will always take priority in this process and will remain anonymous if they choose. Although Katahira assured students that the administration is in the process of expanding awareness and information on the website, pressure must be maintained in order to ensure changes which best support survivors.
Reporting is only one aspect of the complex process survivors must decide how to handle while in a physically vulnerable and mentally dissociated state. In trauma, the neural processes that organize sensory information break down and memories become fragmented. It is common for survivors to need time to process their experience before defining it as sexual assault. Sometimes this process takes years, as it did in my experience. Education and awareness of resources is essential to protecting the rights of survivors. It should be a priority for the administration to provide information to all students instead of relying on the reporting process to make available resources to survivors. Stalking, sexual harassment, and intimate partner violence are related issues of gender-based violence that need increased attention surrounding the conversation of sexual misconduct. Minoritized populations are disproportionately affected by sexual violence and LGBTQ people and women of color are especially in need of access to resources. As a Jesuit university with elite status, our social justice mission necessitates the conversation in the context of our community. Seattle University administration has the opportunity and responsibility to incorporate diverse perspectives and include the voices of students and faculty in the process. We can, and should, do better.
Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies major, Biology minor Class of 2016