Veitch reverses stance on sexual assault notification
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President Veitch has changed his mind regarding the need for a real-time notification system for sexual assault, and will be asking Campus Safety to send out campus-wide emails for all reported incidents at the survivor’s discretion. These decisions come after a previous letter to the campus community in which he denied agreeing to the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition’s (OSAC) demands for such reporting and defended the administration’s current policy. Veitch’s message sparked an open letter to the president from OSAC asserting that it will file both a Clery Act and Title IX complaint for the way the administration has handled sexual assault in past years and the lack of action taken by the college.
VETICH’S APOLOGY, CHANGE IN NOTIFICATION
In a March 5 letter, Veitch stated that a campus-wide emergency alert system for reported sexual assaults would not be implemented, despite the requests of some students and faculty, specifically OSAC. Veitch also discussed the manner in which some members of the community addressed the sexual assault policy debate.
“I’m dismayed that having agreed to that conversation [on sexual assault policy], a number of well-intentioned people have chosen to cast our motives into doubt; vilify dedicated, hard-working members of Student Affairs; question the sincerity of our response; and actively sought to embarrass the College on the evening news,” Veitch wrote in his letter.
In a follow-up letter and interview with “The Occidental Weekly,” Veitch apologized for parts of the first letter he concedes could have been better written. He clarified that his objection was to the implication that Occidental is not serious about sexual assault, not that students were talking to the media.
“I wrote it at a moment when everything seemed to be coming at us at once. A bad idea. Let me try again. I would like to begin by apologizing for a tone that might have alienated those I most wanted to reach – the students and faculty who care most about the issue of sexual assault,” he wrote in his March 18 Letter to the Editor.
The most dramatic shift, however, is Veitch’s decision to go forward with public notification of alleged sexual assaults between students, which he says came after conversations with students, staff and faculty over the past few days.
“I had thought that the best way to do the notification was kind of cumulatively at the end of the semester and at the end of the year so people could kind of see the general climate on campus, and I came to appreciate more fully why people wanted real time notification, as almost a way to remind people that sexual assault is occurring regularly on campus, and by non strangers,” Veitch said in an interview with The Weekly.
Although the exact language of these reports is yet to be determined, Veitch said they must be decontextualized and limited to a date and the fact that a sexual assault occurred without specifying information about the location or students involved.
“I was concerned about privacy around the reports. I didn’t want it to become a circus every time somebody reported a sexual assault, and so it wasn’t until I realized that one could do it in the way [described above] that it would allow us to kind of do what was called for, but still do it in a way not to be linked directly to the doors of the person complaining or the person who is yet to go through an adjudication process,” Veitch said in his interview.
The student who reports the incident will decide whether or not they want the campus to be notified, which Veitch believes will give the survivor the most possible authority over the situation. Veitch concluded his letter by emphasizing that notification is only the first step in addressing the myriad of issues surrounding sexual assault.
“Our goal is to make Occidental nothing short of exemplary in eradicating this scourge on our campus and encouraging the conversation we have on this and other vitally important issues.”
OSAC TO FILE FEDERAL COMPLAINTS
Following Veitch’s initial letter, OSAC announced plans to file complaints with both the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights in response to the college’s actions concerning issues of sexual assault. A related complaint is OSAC’s perception that Veitch went back on a commitment to implement their sexual assault policy recommendations, including the use of an emergency reporting system (referred to as demand number seven.) Politics professor and department chair Caroline Heldman explained why OSAC feels the need to file these claims.
“[Veitch’s] open letter was a real slap in the face in the sense that we have been glad-handed and stonewalled and ignored and talked to death about this problem for years,” Heldman said. “When he reneged on [demand]number seven – and not ‘Let’s have more conversation about number seven,’ but, ‘Number seven absolutely cannot work, end of conversation’ – that made it really clear to us that there was not a good faith effort to reform sexual assault on this campus and that change will have to come externally.”
According to Heldman and professor of sociology Danielle Dirks, the Clery Act complaint revolves around the college’s perceived failure to implement a timely reporting system and a separate emergency reporting system for reports of sexual assault – both of which are required by the Clery Act.
The Clery Act mandates that institutions have a system in place to alert the campus of certain crimes as soon as pertinent information becomes available. For the members of OSAC, however, the alert system is less about creating a warning system and more about changing the culture surrounding sexual assault on campus.
“These alerts are less about kind of day-to-day living and more about the symbolic importance of saying, ‘we’re acknowledging that rape and sexual assault occurs here,’” Heldman said.
The separate complaint to the Office of Civil Rights relates to OSAC’s belief that Occidental’s sexual assault policy and practices are in violation of Title IX regulations, which prohibit sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funding.
“We are filing a complaint that demonstrates that Oxy has lapses in terms of its compliance with federal law when it comes to prevention programming, when it comes to the policy, when it comes to the adjudication process and when it comes to the appeals process,” Heldman said.
At press time, OSAC planned to file the Clery Act complaint in one week and the complaint to the Office of Civil Rights in six.
The Clery Act requires all institutions to keep a publicly available daily crime log, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting. The log is designed to provide the public with information on reported crimes on a more timely basis than the yearly crime statistics reports. Crimes should be recorded in the log immediately after they are reported to the campus safety department, according to the handbook.
Occidental’s daily crime log is available online on the campus safety portion of the college’s website. As part of its Clery Act complaint, OSAC plans to take the college to task for a failure to update this log with instances of reported sexual assault in a timely manner. Dirks noted that 15 previously unpublished reports of sexual assault were added to the crime log on March 12, two days after OSAC announced their plans to file a Clery Act complaint.
“Fifteen [assaults] in two days feels like peculiar timing and peculiar reporting,” Professor Dirks said in regards to the crime log entries. She also called attention to the fact that some of the reports entered on March 12 date as far back as 2010.
When asked why this unusually large number of entries appeared on one date, Director of Campus Safety Holly Nieto expressed that there had been some confusion at an administrative level as to the reporting requirements.
“I understand that [these reports] came from an anonymous reporting form that we – the institution, bigger than me – now understand need to be included in our stats. Didn’t know that before… So we caught up, if you will,” Nieto said.
Nieto also explained that anonymous reports are first sent to the Dean of Students Office, which is then responsible for passing the information on to Campus Safety.
“The anonymous reports came into Dean Erica O’Neal Howard’s area. I don’t know how it got there, I don’t know that piece,” Nieto said. “It has been determined that those need to be included in our crime log, so we did.”
Associate Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard, however, maintained that all of the sexual misconduct reports appearing on March 12 were filed anonymously the week prior.
“They were reported anonymously to us between March 5-7, 2013 and the dates of the incidents range from 2010 to 2013,” O’Neal Howard wrote in an email. “This is an unusual amount of activity in such a time span. Delayed reports are fairly common on college campuses. It is not uncommon for us to receive reports, even in the formal grievance process, one to two years after an incident.”
TASK FORCE MEETING
President Veitch assembled a Sexual Assault Task Force in order to further explore the college’s sexual misconduct policies. According to Veitch, the priorities of the task force are education, therapeutic response, adjudication, the study of best practices and revision of policy in regards to sexual assault. The members of the task force include Associate Dean for Curriculum and Student Issues John Swift, Emmons Lead Family Nurse Practitioner Bobbie Dacus, a student representative from the Associated Students of Occidental College, Dean O’Neal Howard, a student representative from OSAC, Task Force Co-Chairs Danielle Dirks and Shelby Radcliffe and Veitch himself.
The Task Force aims to survey the campus climate and current policies and make recommendations for improvement, according to Co-Chair Shelby Radcliffe.
“We have a lot of information and lots of sources, but we don’t have anything truly comprehensive and specific to Occidental,” Radcliffe said. “And we were starting to weigh the costs of taking more time, to be as thorough as possible, versus being able to act on some things quickly.”
Radcliffe also emphasized that the Task Force is committed to taking action but is limited by the small number of meetings they have left in the semester. The Task Force will convene eight more times before the end of the school year.
“It’s very clear to all of us that we can’t just talk about this for the next two months; we have to try to find some issues where we can take some action,” Radcliffe said. “But since we’re just getting started, we’re a little apprehensive to promise things and then not deliver them.”
As one of their first steps, the Task Force is hosting a town hall meeting to give students, staff and faculty the opportunity to share their opinions. President Veitch will give opening remarks, Dirks and Radcliffe will introduce the Task Force and the floor will then be opened to the public. The meeting will take place in Thorne Hall at 11:30 a.m. on March 21.