Aug. 25, 2017

Aug. 25, 2017: Efforts Related to Sexual and Relationship Misconduct

Creighton University President, the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ

As we embark on a new academic year, it is an especially appropriate time to reflect on the conversations we have had regarding sexual and relationship misconduct.

I would like to share with you the significant history and context of these matters here at Creighton, particularly regarding our ability to respond to important shifts in Title IX law beginning in 2011; recommendations of the spring 2017 Presidential Policy and Procedure Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct; clarifications to our existing policy; announcement of a new advisory committee; currents and shifts in the federal government; and institutional values related to our mission and identity while also recognizing the modern dynamics of a college campus.  

The University’s recent efforts related to sexual and relationship misconduct date back to 2010. That year, the Division of Student Life created a position to provide advocacy to students reporting incidents of harassment, discrimination, or sexual or relationship misconduct to the University. 

This position quickly expanded to include prevention education and training and, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued the “Dear Colleague Letter,” instructing colleges and universities to consider reports of sexual assault as an extreme form of sexual harassment, making it a violation under Title IX. The letter advised colleges and universities to amend their investigative procedures, make the process prompt and equitable, provide a timeline for investigation, and identify the rights of victims in the process. 

The work begun by the Division of Student Life quickly became vital to the University’s requirements under Title IX. Since 2011, the University has continued its commitment to students, faculty, and staff, while meeting requirements under federal law. This includes the following highlights:

  • June 2011: Creighton University and the Women’s Center for Advancement were awarded a CHI Health Violence Prevention Grant to fund prevention education efforts, specifically bystander education, at the University. This grant was in partnership with the University of Nebraska Omaha. 
  • July 2011: The Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center was formed within the Division of Student Life, with the assistant dean of students overseeing prevention and advocacy efforts.
  • November 2011: Thirteen Creighton faculty and staff were trained to become Green Dot facilitators and help implement a bystander intervention program to serve our campus.
  • June 2012: The Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) was created to oversee all issues of harassment, discrimination, and sexual and relationship misconduct at the University. The VIP Center was moved out of Student Life and under the leadership of the OEI. The office consisted of two staff members at its inception and expanded to a staff of five by 2017.
  • June 2012: Creighton University and the Women’s Center for Advancement were awarded a three-year CHI Health Violence Prevention Grant to fund prevention education efforts, specifically bystander education, at the University. This grant also was in partnership with the University of Nebraska Omaha. 
  • August 2012: Creighton started the Green Dot program, offering presentations and training to the campus community. Today, the VIP Center offers training to faculty, staff, and students, including all Welcome Week leaders and residence hall advisors.
  • March 2013: The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, was signed into law. This bill requires campuses to implement prevention education programs, provide support to victims of sexual violence, clearly state campus investigative procedures, and report issues of dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking in their annual crime reports.
  • May 2013: University leadership approved the new Harassment, Discrimination, and Grievance policy, the Mandatory Reporters policy, and the Children and Vulnerable Adults policy for campus. The new harassment policy designated the OEI with the responsibility to adjudicate all incidents of sexual and relationship misconduct. 
  • July 2014: The OEI moved to its current location in Creighton Hall 340, and the VIP Center moved into Brandeis Hall 101. Both new spaces provided the campus community with better access to services.
  • August 2014: The VIP Center was designated as a confidential advocacy center, and the University implemented a new amnesty statement, which afforded students amnesty from minor policy violations when reporting incidents of sexual misconduct to the University. These two changes resulted in an estimated 52 percent increase in clients served by the VIP Center in the first year alone.
  • November 2014: The Office of Equity and Inclusion launched an online Title IX training program for all faculty and staff. Currently, all new faculty and staff receive in-person training from the OEI during orientation, along with online training.
  • April 2015: The VIP Center relaunched the “Take Back the Night” event on campus, attendance at which has steadily grown, with approximately 400 participating in the event in 2017.
  • July 2015: The OEI hired a full-time senior investigator to provide more time, attention, and consistency to campus investigations. The office also works with nine additional staff members who have been trained as investigators and assist with investigations. 
  • June 2016: The VIP Center, in partnership with the Women’s Center for Advancement, was awarded another three-year CHI Health Violence Prevention Grant. This grant included funding for student leadership positions within the VIP Center and funding for the Green Dot program. 
  • January 2017: The VIP Center hired for a second full-time position, focusing on advocacy and prevention education.

As you may recall, in February, I appointed a committee of faculty, staff, and students to review Creighton’s existing policies and procedures regarding sexual and relationship misconduct. Together, with students and stakeholders across campus, we had many conversations throughout the following months regarding societal issues that impact all institutions of higher learning, including our own.

This committee met throughout the spring and provided me with recommendations for policy updates, including the proposal of a new University definition of consent. This language was established after a thorough review of definitions in use at approximately 50 other colleges and universities across the country, including public, private, Catholic, and other Christian, faith-based institutions. 

The committee drew inspiration from these definitions and looked as well to peer institutions, including Marquette University, Saint Louis University, Xavier University, and Seattle University in crafting our new definition. It also reviewed policy from Villanova University and Occidental College, both of which expressly define terms used within their respective definitions of consent.

I am pleased to announce that this proposed definition was incorporated into the revised Harassment, Discrimination, Sexual and Relationship Misconduct policy, which was approved by University leadership last week. 

Too, the staff of Creighton’s Office of Equity and Inclusion incorporated feedback from the committee, and from the campus listening session held on Feb. 13, in order to infuse greater transparency into the process of investigating incidents of sexual assault and relationship misconduct on our campus.   

The committee also offered recommendations to enhance training and education for faculty, staff, and students. Coinciding with the start of the new semester, the Office of Equity and Inclusion on Monday gave its inaugural presentation of a newly revised freshman orientation program, A Call to Change, which emphasizes Creighton’s commitment to bystander education. This program introduced the new definition of consent, reviewed warning signs of sexual and relationship misconduct, and offered an overview of advocacy and investigative procedures.

In response to another committee recommendation, the Office of Equity and Inclusion provided a two-day training opportunity in July for investigators, as well as others involved in the appellate process. This is in addition to ongoing training provided throughout the school year for all personnel involved in the investigative process. 

Continued education and awareness of reporting options and resources also will be a priority in the new academic year for both the OEI and the VIP Center, which has temporarily moved into the first floor of Swanson Residence Hall, Room 121, for the 2017-2018 academic year. The OEI recently released a resource guide for sexual and relationship misconduct
    
I would like to thank the members of the Presidential Policy and Procedure Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct for their diligent work, insight, and thoughtful recommendations, which have been helpful in guiding recent policy revisions and programming efforts. 

Included among this committee’s findings was a recommendation to create a permanent committee, composed of faculty, staff, and students, to provide ongoing support to campus initiatives around sexual and relationship misconduct. I agree with this recommendation and am commissioning a new presidential committee to act as a Title IX Advisory Committee, chaired by Allison Taylor, executive director for the Office of Equity and Inclusion and Title IX coordinator for the University.  

The Title IX Advisory Committee will review and make recommendations to the Office of Equity and Inclusion regarding Creighton University’s policies, procedures, and initiatives addressing sexual and relationship misconduct. This includes the following:

  • Identify the needs, issues, and climate of campus with regard to issues of sexual and/or relationship misconduct.
  • Inform the University’s policies and procedures that address sexual and/or relationship misconduct.
  • Ensure compliance with Title IX requirements and best practices regarding the reporting, resolution, and prevention of incidents of sexual and/or relationship misconduct.
  • Review programming, training opportunities, and educational materials regarding sexual and/or relationship misconduct for compliance and effectiveness.
  • Identify best practices for the University’s violence prevention strategy.
  • Review annual statistics (aggregated) from the Office of Equity and Inclusion and Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.
  • Report annually on the work and findings of the committee.

The membership of this new committee will consist primarily of individuals who served on the previous committee, in order to continue the work that began this spring. The Title IX Advisory Committee is expected to meet quarterly and will include the following members:

Ex-officio

  • Marshall Kole – Office of Equity and Inclusion, senior investigator 
  • Desiree Nownes – Division of Student Life, senior director, Community Standards and Wellbeing
  • Michael Reiner – Department of Public Safety, director 
  • Nancy Schrage – Department of Human Resources, senior human resource generalist
  • Tricia Sharrar, JD – Office of the Provost, vice provost for Academic Administration and Partnerships
  • Allison Taylor – Office of Equity and Inclusion, executive director and Title IX coordinator
  • Lauren Ward – Office of Equity and Inclusion, associate director for Violence Intervention and Prevention 

Faculty

  • Erika Kirby, PhD – College of Arts and Sciences, professor, Department of Communication Studies, and Faculty Council member
  • Peter Stone – College of Arts and Sciences, instructor, Analytical and Environmental Chemistry
  • Catherine Todero, PhD, RN, FAAN – College of Nursing, dean 
  • David Weber, JD – School of Law, faculty member

Staff

  • Shawn Cook – School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, director of student affairs
  • Brandy Menaugh, JD – Division of Athletics, associate director for compliance
  • Rebecca Murray, PhD – College of Arts and Sciences, associate dean for social and applied sciences
  • Fallon Watts – Interdisciplinary EdD Program, Graduate School, Staff Advisory Council

Students

  • Ed Nuñez – College of Arts and Sciences, senior 
  • Dhruti Tummalapalli– College of Arts and Sciences, senior, and executive vice president, Creighton Students Union

Today, we find ourselves in a very difference place than we were seven years ago. Title IX has changed the way colleges and universities investigate and respond to issues of sexual misconduct on campus, and the guidance from the federal government has continued to change. 

Since the aforementioned “Dear Colleague Letter,” additional letters were released in 2013 and 2015, focusing on retaliation and the role of the Title IX coordinator, respectively. In 2016, a “Dear Colleague Letter” was issued regarding the rights of transgender students, then was rescinded in 2017 by the new U.S. administration. 

During the summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with stakeholders to discuss the Obama-era Title IX guidance, and it is anticipated that new or revised guidance may be issued later this fall. The Office of Equity and Inclusion has followed guidance as it has been issued, and will continue to keep me apprised of any changes on the horizon.

As a Jesuit, Catholic institution of higher learning, and with a community that believes in the inalienable worth of each individual, I am committed to providing additional support to violence prevention efforts and doing everything we can to stop sexual assault on our campus. Indeed, our commitment in this area over time has grown into an established office, advocacy center, and comprehensive prevention program. 

In addition, we remain focused on the values that the Catholic faith identifies in its teaching of the virtue of chastity and the joy of authentic participation in sexual union that is both protected and nurtured by freely chosen, stable, lifetime commitments of partners who publicly vow to love and care for each other. 

I invite our community members to a richer reflection and discernment on their purpose in life, and the ways they want to live out their gifts and call in relationship, and I call on our community to continue to stand against violence in all of its forms.

Sincerely, 

Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ