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University of Utah, Change Policies about Campus Sexual Assault

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Official Letter to President Pershing and the University of Utah

     In May of this year The Salt Lake Tribune reported that a recent graduate of the University of Utah experienced a long struggle to report sexual assault on campus while she was a student (1). The assault occurred in February of 2015 and more than a year later, after she and the perpetrator had both graduated, the school finally finished its investigation into her case. The U.S. Department of Education recommends schools complete their investigation of campus sexual assault within 60 days.

     Last week, The Daily Utah Chronicle (the school newspaper) reported on another student's struggle seeking justice for sexual assault through the University of Utah (2). Given the pseudonym of Alison, The Chronicle reports she was sexually assaulted by a member of ASUU, the student government organization at the University. After pressing charges through the campus police and filing a complaint with the Title IX office in early spring of 2015, the University found the perpetrator “more likely than not” guilty and expelled him. He appealed, extending the process by 10 months. During this time, Alison and her mother had difficulty contacting campus police despite many attempts to receive an update on the case and The Chronicle reported “campus police didn’t return phone calls for long periods of time.” At some point in this process, the perpetrator resigned his position in ASUU, left the University, and transferred to another school. The Title IX investigation ultimately upheld the original ruling, but the sanctions and admission of guilt did not follow him to his new school. While not required by law to release the findings of Title IX investigations, the University chose not to disclose his status as a sexual assault perpetrator to his new school or the public, potentially allowing him to continue to assault more people.

     Even more recently, a student reported a man in a mask raped her at gunpoint in her car on October 31st this year. On December 6th, President Pershing sent out an email to the entire campus community with an excerpt from the campus police chief that implied this woman lied about her rape. Since the case is suspended and not closed, the University does not have to release the police report and demonstrate that they investigated the case to the fullest extent.

     As a group of recent graduates, current students, and employees, and members of our campus community, we have come together under the name "SLC Against Sexual Assault" to discuss these issues and the way they are addressed on our campus. We share the common belief that the University of Utah administration has mishandled sexual assault on our campus and has promoted rape culture through the language that has been used by President Pershing and the campus police chief, as well as the actions and policies the administration has chosen to take on the issue. We believe that there are institutional changes that could be made to better support victims of sexual assault and improve the safety of everyone on our campus, but particularly those most vulnerable to sexual assault. We appreciate efforts made by the University, but they are not enough.

    In the email he sent out last week, President Pershing said that, "We continue to look for ways to improve safety on our campus and welcome suggestions from all members of the university community." We intend to hold him to his word. 

    We are writing an open letter to President Pershing and the University of Utah administration, in which we will note a number of suggested changes to University policies and actions that we recommend the University make in order to take sexual assault on our campus more seriously.

These changes will include:

·      Requesting a public town hall meeting to discuss campus sexual assault

·      Requiring all incoming students to complete consent training

·      Increasing the resources and staff for the Women's Resource Center (WRC), which is specifically equipped to counsel survivors of sexual assault

·      Including the WRC and victim advocates in the "new presidential working group"

·      Providing all faculty and administration with resources and support to be better prepared if a survivor discloses their assault to them

·      Including their status as an offender on transcripts of all perpetrators found guilty of sexual assault through a Title IX investigation

·      Releasing all Title IX investigation documents from closed cases to the public (while withholding victims' names) to increase transparency about these procedures and encourage continuous improvement

·      Limiting the length of time sexual assault cases can remain suspended before being closed and becoming public record

·      Training all campus police in trauma-informed care, since they are likely to be the first responders for sexual assault cases on campus

·      Limiting the length of sexual assault investigations to a maximum of 6 months and informing the survivor of the timeline

·      Hiring additional investigative staff for the Title IX office

·      Shifting the message in University correspondence about sexual assault from how victims can avoid risk to encouraging reporting, supporting survivors, and enforcing punishment for perpetrators

     If you support these actions and believe the University needs to make changes to better support survivors, prevent sexual assault, and increase transparency, we invite you to sign this petition with your name and University affiliation (i.e. John Smith, Utes Fan). We will hand deliver all signatures collected with the letter to the President's office on Monday, December 19, 2016. We will also provide the administration with the link to this petition, so please continue to share and sign after December 19th. We believe this is an opportunity for the University to take the needs of its community into account and make important changes that could set a precedent for college campuses nationwide.

UPDATE (12/19/16): You can view the open letter we wrote to President Pershing and the administration of the University of Utah that was sent at 9AM on December 19th. This afternoon we will be meeting with President Pershing to present the letter and discuss the content. Please sign and share so the University of Utah knows how many people this issue affects. 

[1] Alex Stuckey and Annie Knox, “Former U. Student Files Federal Complaint, Says School Investigation into Her Sexual Assault Was Unduly Long,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 4, 2016, www.sltrib.com/home/3850379-155/new-graduate-says-university-of-utah

[2] Elise Vandersteen, “Nowhere to Turn: One U Student’s Experience with Sexual Assault,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, December 8, 2016, http://dailyutahchronicle.com/2016/12/08/nowhere-to-turn-one-students-experience-with-sexual-assault/

 *Edits made on 15 December 2016 for clarity



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