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Emerson College President Promises Improvements In Sexual Assault Response

10/10/2013 10:39 am ET | Updated Nov 26, 2013
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Emerson College will launch an internal review of its response to sexual violence on campus after a group of students filed a federal complaint against the school.

"We can and we will do better," said M. Lee Pelton, the school's president, in a campuswide email Wednesday announcing steps the college is taking in response to the complaint.

"Sexual assault occurs too often on college campuses, and it is critically important that we redouble our efforts to combat incidents that harm our students and undermine what we stand for as a commonwealth of learning," Pelton wrote.

Students accused Emerson administrators of dragging their feet to investigate reports of sexual assault. One female student said she was told by the school not to make a "big deal" of her assault, and another said the school's investigation of her assault left out crucial evidence.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights last week, but students went public with their allegations Tuesday.

Pelton told the community that he has asked Sylvia Spears, vice president of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Lori Beth Way, senior adviser to the Office of Academic Affairs for undergraduate education, to conduct an independent review of the way Emerson currently responds to sexual assault reports. Some of the areas they will focus on include step-by-step responses to the reports, prevention and education programs, and advocacy and support programs. Their findings and recommendations will be due no later than March 2014.

Emerson will begin looking for someone to join the school as a sexual assault advocate in order to provide support for victims of sexual violence, he added.

Pelton also noted steps that Emerson has already taken to improve its response to sexual violence, such as additions to training sessions for students who help manage residence hall floors, for the judiciary board that handles violations of student conduct, and for Title IX investigators, who carry out investigations of sexual assaults. It has also created a website that lays out resources to "create a culture of consent."

It's typical for administrations facing complaints like these to launch reviews, although Emerson has perhaps reacted faster than others. In the past year, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Occidental College and larger schools like the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have launched reviews.

Pelton said he also plans to hold a meeting on campus to hear from students about the issue and answer questions about moving forward.

"This is a call to stand together," Pelton wrote, "a call to say together with a single, clear, crystalline voice that we have had enough of the acts that hurt and destroy the fabric of our College."

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