Update on Mason’s sexual assault task force

(Credit: Megan Zendek/Fourth Estate)

Last February, Mason’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence published a report that contained eight recommendations to be implemented on campus by August 2015. Currently, seven out of the eight have been completed.

Under an order from President Ángel Cabrera, the task force was formed last fall. The group, which includes faculty, staff and students, met seven times between September 2014 and February 2015.

After members published a final report this past February, another task force was created. This new task force, the Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Leadership Committee (SAIV), has been working since February to ensure that the eight recommendations are completed. Currently, a number of the members of the original task force serve on SAIV, including Equal Opportunity Specialist and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Herbertia Gilmore, University Life Vice President Rose Pascarell and Dean of Students Juliet Blank-Godlove.

“The leadership team met throughout the summer and has made great progress in meeting the August 2015 goals, with the majority of goals met by the time of new student move-in,” Gilmore said.

The first recommendation was to create a Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Leadership Committee, which was fulfilled by the formation of SAIV. According to the report, the committee’s purpose is to “oversee the implementation and annual assessment of Task Force recommendations and determine staffing and resources needed for success.”

The second recommendation was to secure “tangible and ongoing commitments” from various university leadership, including the President’s Council. This recommendation required that by August 2015 the President’s Council be featured on Mason’s new website containing all information on sexual assault policy. The creation of this website was the only item the task force did not complete. However, commitments were still secured from university leadership. The second recommendation also asked that 25 percent of faculty and staff be trained as Title IX allies, which means they can file a Title IX complaint on behalf of someone else once a certification program becomes available. The report did not specify when that would be.

Part of the report’s seventh recommendation, the website was intended to integrate “all online and written information on all policies, procedures and resources, both on- and off-campus, available to the Mason community.” All information was supposed to be no more than two clicks away from the main university website. This recommendation also mandated the creation and distribution of a brochure containing relevant information and resources related to reporting services and support. The brochure is no longer part of the plan. Instead, “the team chose to work with professionals to create an entire communications campaign,” Gilmore said. The campaign is still being produced and will be distributed campus-wide when it is completed, according to Gilmore.

A third recommendation was that a full-time Title IX Coordinator position be created. Currently, Gilmore is the deputy Title IX coordinator.

A fourth recommendation stated that the university should “identify and adhere” to written criteria outlining the process by which the Mason community is notified after a campus sexual assault is reported.

The report’s fifth recommendation requested that the roles of Campus Security Authorities and Responsible Employees be defined and identified. According to the Clery Center website, Campus Security Employees (CSAs), are defined as “individuals with significant responsibility for campus and student activities, such as campus police/security, resident assistants, coaches, and club advisors, among others.” Responsible Employees are defined as “any employee who has the authority to take action to redress sexual violence, who has been given the duty to report to appropriate school officials about incidents of sexual violence or any other misconduct by students, or who a student could reasonably believe has this authority or responsibility,” according to NotAlone.gov. Title IX requires that students be made aware of which employees are Responsible Employees.

This is closely related to the sixth recommendation: developing what the report calls a “one-page information sheet for faculty, staff and relevant campus offices related to their status as either ‘Responsible Employees’ and/or ‘Campus Security Authorities.’” The information on such a sheet would include information on confidentiality, reporting requirements and maintaining victim integrity while reporting an incident.

The eighth and final task force recommendation to be completed by August 2015 was the formation of a campus climate survey. According to the task force report, it will be used to determine the “efficacy of programs, policies, training, and in-class curricula.” The task force plans to send out the survey on an annual basis, beginning in the 2016 academic year.

In addition to the above short-term goals, the task force issued 25 aims for the long term, thereby formulating a list of 33 recommendations altogether.

“The leadership and implementation group took on the first eight over the summer – the eight that the task force deemed most important,” Gilmore said. “The task force leadership and implementation group will work throughout the year and beyond in an effort to implement all recommendations, and we will create tangible programs, projects, and information for use by students, faculty, staff and the community.”

According to Blank-Godlove, SAIV began to focus on the long-term recommendations this week, with the goal of completing all remaining recommendations by the end of the academic year.

“Working groups have been asked to review the recommendations, prioritize them and then submit implementation date suggestions. It is expected that the implementation of these recommendations will be tiered,” Blank-Godlove said.

One long-term recommendation is “regularly scheduled, mandatory training opportunities for several constituency groups on campus,” such as fraternity and sorority members, student athletes and ROTC, Blank-Godlove said.

Overall, Blank-Godlove believes that “the implementation of the task force report recommendations … [will] create a climate change on campus, where the campus community is actively informed and engaged in the programs, policies, training, and curricula that will combat incidents of sexual assault and interpersonal violence.”

Gilmore thinks “the task force recommendations will continue to create more awareness, training, education, and knowledge of reporting and adjudication options” and says that “[the committee] will continue to educate students as they enter Mason.” Gilmore explains that the committee’s ultimate goal “is to make a positive difference in campus culture, to increase reports, and ultimately decrease incidents of sexual violence.”