On May 1, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a list of 55 colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt University, whose handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints is under investigation. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by OCR and those initiated by the OCR as compliance reviews. OCR Director Catherine E. Lhamon stated last week that “a college or university’s appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.”
Vanderbilt University is fully cooperating with OCR’s compliance review and remains committed to complying with Title IX and protecting the safety and well-being of our students. Vanderbilt is determined to prevent sexual violence on our campus, provide timely and effective support to sexual violence victims, and deal firmly but fairly with alleged offenders.
Vanderbilt’s policy against sexual misconduct and other forms of power-based personal violence, which is modeled on guidance issued to all colleges and universities by OCR in 2011, provides for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct and for sanctioning students found responsible. VU PETSA (Personal Empowerment Through Self-Awareness), a mandatory learning module, is required for all incoming students and is being expanded to graduate students. All first-year and transfer students are also required to complete AlcoholEdu for College, an online, non-judgmental, science-based comprehensive alcohol abuse prevention course. The university provides a variety of confidential and non-confidential resources for victims of sexual assault and offers interim measures to ensure that survivors feel safe and supported.
Over the last few months, Vanderbilt has engaged in focused discussions with students, faculty and staff on the issue of sexual misconduct. Those discussions have provided an opportunity to address what the university is doing to reduce sexual misconduct and to provide victims the support they need, as well as to listen to and learn from members of the campus community.
Among recent developments is the launch of a website, www.vanderbilt.edu/projectsafe, that provides, in one place, access to sexual assault support and prevention resource information. At the suggestion of our students, posters have been distributed all over campus with the message: “Sex Without Consent Is Sexual Assault.” To dispel any notion that sexual violence is a “women’s issue,” the university is converting an existing office for the Project Safe program, which is currently housed within the women’s center, into an independent center with increased staffing.
Vanderbilt is also increasing its focus on the responsibility of friends, witnesses and mentors to take action to prevent sexual violence and support sexual violence victims. The Green Dot awareness and bystander intervention program, which has been in place at Vanderbilt for several years, is being expanded and faculty members are being asked to increase their participation. In addition to the Green Dot program, the university is working with faculty to provide them with the information they need should they be in a position to assist a sexual assault victim.
These initiatives build on programs and services Vanderbilt has long provided. They are part of a larger continuing effort to collaborate with students, faculty and staff to deal with sexual harassment in all forms on our campus.