Improving Western's Efforts in Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Misconduct

To the Western Campus Community:

Western’s most important responsibility is to provide a safe campus environment, an environment free from sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination. Preventing and responding to sexual violence and sexual misconduct is something that universities across the country are struggling to address, and Western is no exception.  It has become increasingly clear to me that Western’s efforts in this area need to be rethought, reorganized, and significantly improved. I have spoken with Western students, faculty, and staff who experience a lack of confidence in Western’s response to sexual misconduct. My fear is not that the lack of confidence is justified, but that survivors of sexual misconduct might stop coming forward because they have no faith in the process and the accountability that follows from it. 

In order to begin restoring that confidence, Western will be taking several steps this year. First, we are restructuring Title IX investigations and reportage, creating a separate Title IX Office which will report directly to the President. The Title IX Office will focus exclusively and comprehensively on investigating reports of sexual violence and misconduct, as well as coordination and oversight of our institutional policies, processes, and prevention efforts. We will immediately commence a national search for a Title IX Coordinator to direct this office.  Until the new coordinator has been hired, Western’s Title IX investigations and other efforts will continue to be led by the Equal Opportunity Office

Last spring, I asked our Director of Internal Audit to review how cases of sexual violence and sexual misconduct have been handled in the past, as well as how we have handled accountability and consequences for proven violations. The recommendations from the Internal Audit report, which is available here, center around ensuring that institutional procedures and practices provide for prompt time frames for resolution of complaints, providing adequate staffing focused on sexual misconduct cases, ensuring adequate communication on the outcome of complaints to all parties concerned, and ensuring clear communication between the Office of Student Life and the Equal Opportunity Office.

Per the recommendations of the Internal Audit report, we will complete revision of Western’s Discrimination Complaint Procedure, no later than January 2019, to provide clear, reasonable and justifiable time frames for prompt reviews and clear guidelines on communication, including notification to complainants on outcomes of the investigation. To improve coordination between the Office of Student Life and Equal Opportunity Office and improve accountability, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Melynda Huskey is being designated as a Deputy Title IX Coordinator, leading and coordinating the student disciplinary function that is the purview of the Office of Student Life.  If you have questions about Western’s policies and procedures for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, please contact Dr. Sue Guenther-Schlesinger at 360-650-3307 or Sue.Guenter-Schlesinger@wwu.edu.  

We also are enhancing our prevention and education efforts. Currently, Western requires all new students, including freshmen, transfer, and graduate students, to complete a mandatory sexual assault prevention training called HAVEN. This year we will be instituting a second HAVEN training for all students at the end of their second or beginning of their third year at Western. Prevention and Wellness Services, with the assistance of Western’s Empowerment and Violence Education (WEAVE) peer health educators, is developing new skills- and scenario-based training for students about communication and consent.  Prevention and Wellness Services is also home to Consultation and Sexual Assault Support (CASAS).  This confidential advocacy and support service for anyone of any identity who has been affected by sexual assault, harassment, dating violence or emotional abuse can be reached at 360-650-3700.  

I believe the administrative changes and strategies that we are implementing this year will help us more effectively address sexual misconduct. This fall I will invite the leadership of the faculty, staff, and student governance groups to talk with me about how we can continue to address sexual misconduct, improve our response, and overcome the obstacles to our progress.

The path to a truly safe campus depends not only on the strategies and processes we put in place, but also fostering a culture in which every member of the community takes personal responsibility to contribute to the solution.  I hope you will join me in making that personal commitment, so that every member of our campus community feels safe, valued, and respected.

Sincerely,

Sabah