Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff of Colgate University,
Sexual assault is one of the most hidden of all forms of violence. A smiling face conceals the pain; the fear of being ostracized, of being criticized, even of being blamed, imposes silence.
I write to acknowledge the courageous voices of those who participated in last week’s speak-out and broke the silence, and to acknowledge, as well, those who have engaged in forums that are less public — indeed, to recognize all students who, in their different ways, have had the courage to use their experiences and their suffering to make things better for others.
I write also to acknowledge the many students who have worked for change on campus, including those who insisted on the importance of holding a speak-out. Students have played an indispensable role in Bystander Intervention Training, the Yes Means Yes initiative, and This is Not a Play About Sex, as well as in groups like The Network and MASC (Masculinity and Sexual Climate). Students have met on this issue regularly with Dean Nelson and members of her staff during this semester. I know how important it is to work in partnership with committed students; they are essential to creating a healthy and more respectful campus climate.
I write, finally, to explain the concrete steps that administrators have taken already, and others that will be taken in the future. In addition to a number of recent and ongoing efforts in education and prevention, we will continue to strengthen services for survivors. Colgate’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Survivor Support Action Plan highlights many recent initiatives, including the hiring of two additional staff members in the area of survivor support and sexual violence prevention and response; creating a soft interview room not located in the campus safety building; implementing a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program in partnership with Community Memorial Hospital; and offering increased training for staff, faculty, and student leaders. I will appoint an external review committee of experts in the field who will assess Colgate’s sexual violence and survivor support services and make recommendations for improvement. I have asked Dean Nelson to convene and lead a task force, to be composed of two professors, two SGA-appointed students, and two staff members. This task force will be charged with implementing Colgate’s plan, which will be informed by the external review recommendations. This group will also consider ways to enlist input from the community in the coming weeks.
Administrative measures have, then, been extensive on this campus; more will be forthcoming. As you know, the original plan to discuss the results of the HEDS Sexual Assault/Campus Climate Survey envisioned three brown-bag discussions, the last of which was to be held today — Wednesday, November 11 — at 4:15. I have asked for this brown bag to be canceled in light of recent events; while there has been no formal public presentation of the data, at this point we have moved beyond that part of the discussion. We need to find a way to reset the conversation. In the near future, I hope to see opportunities for genuine engagement on this subject that touches us all, perhaps involving professors as facilitators alongside administrative staff members.
In the meantime, I ask for your continued help in confronting the terrible reality of sexual violence. We are a strong community; working together, we have the power to make change.
Professor of History