COLIN LIKAS & MARAIS JACON-DUFFY | Editor-In-Chief & News Editor
A recent protest on Butler University’s campus has accelerated plans to address sexual violence at the school.
Butler President James Danko said in an email to The Collegian that addressing sexual violence on campus is the administration’s “number one priority.”
“My intention had been to send a Butler community message on the issue once we were in a position to outline specific plans and improvements (to Butler’s sexual assault education and prevention efforts),” he said. “However, given the intensity of dialogue on the topic last week, we decided to accelerate our outreach.”
Danko sent an email to the Butler community last Wednesday addressing the handling of sexual assault cases on campus, Title IX compliance and privacy concerns.
The email also told of a planned Presidential Commission on Sexual Assault and Rape. It will be tasked with the goal of stopping sexual violence at Butler. Students, faculty and staff will be permitted to join.
“It is always important to bring a broad and representative set of stakeholders to the table for any effort of this importance and significance,” Danko said in an email to The Collegian. “We will welcome participation from all who would like to contribute, and have not made any final decisions regarding the commission’s membership.
“Our hope is that this group can recommend and outline clear plans to implement improvements that immediately impact efforts to stem sexual violence on campus,” he said.
Ben Hunter, chief of staff, said response to the planned commission has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We have had so many students, staff members and faculty write to us asking, ‘What can I do to help?’” he said. “They said ‘I’ll be around this summer’ or ‘I’m going abroad next semester, but I want to help in every way I can.’ We always want input and community buy-in.”
Danko’s campus-wide message preceded a sexual assault-related rally at Star Fountain last Thursday.
More than 100 individuals participated in the protest, titled #StandWithEliza. The event was intended to “raise awareness about the inappropriate/ineffective way that our administration handles cases of sexual assault on campus,” according to a Facebook page.
The event spawned from a pair of independent blog posts earlier this month by an individual named Eliza Quincey. These posts told of an alleged rape at Butler and the school administration’s alleged reaction to it.
Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson said protest is a positive thing on campus.
“I think it’s important that we allow students an opportunity where they have an opinion and a voice,” Johnson said. “And we promote the students’ ability to gather. And what we’re seeing a national trend on college campuses where students want to improve and get better in these types of relationships where violence take place. And, likewise, we want to be proactive and prevent and even eradicate it, if we can.”
Sophomore Hana Goodman attended the protest because of experiences her friends have had while at Butler.
“Seven of my friends have been sexually assaulted and several expressed their frustrations about how their cases were handled by Butler,” she said. “I love Butler, but I am dissatisfied by the way recent cases of assault have been mismanaged.”
While Thursday’s demonstration was spurred by a blog post describing one specific case, Goodman said the protest was not focused on the Eliza Quincey case.
“Sexual violence on college campuses is a national pandemic that needs to be addressed,” she said. “Thursday’s event was about far more than one instance.”
The rally and Danko’s email to the community placed a spotlight on the university’s sexual assault policies as well.
Policy and procedure that relate to sexual assault have been modified throughout this school year, specifically the university’s equity grievance resolution policy.
The equity grievance resolution policy encompasses all Title IX discrimination and harassment policies, state and federal law and Clery Act compliance information.
The policy was edited this fall to apply to all students, faculty and staff. The three bodies had been governed by separate policies with different procedures up until this point.
The change to this system was modeled after what is called “one policy, one process.”
In October, during initial policy change consideration, Johnson said the policy would not change for students, and that an increase in transparency should be in effect.
Hunter said the policy change would increase efficiency in addition to transparency.
“This policy is essentially social justice based,” Hunter said in a previous interview with The Collegian. “And what will be nice about it is that, in the end, all of campus will operate under this one set of rules and guidelines and that should, itself, lessen confusion and create more transparency.”
The policy governs the rights of all university students, staff and faculty if they are a victim or the accused in a case of sexual harassment, assault or rape, as well as discrimination and workplace harassment, and procedure that must be followed in such cases.
Human Resources Director and Title IX coordinator La Veda Howell described the policy as one “that will encompass anything that has to deal with situations of inequitable processes between the genders,” during a previous interview with The Collegian.
Hunter said he is aware that the policy is still difficult for the average person to navigate and understand.
“I am a policy wonk, and I could talk policy all day,” he said. “But most people I’m sure would not.”
He also acknowledged that people are not likely to educate themselves on the policy at their leisure.
“I know that, realistically, you’re not going to sit down and read the policy until something bad happens, and you probably won’t go find it right away when something does happen,” Hunter said.
There is a desire among Butler administration to create a more “user-friendly” version of the policy and to increase education regarding the policy, resources and procedures for sexual assault and harassment, Hunter said. Programming and efforts on this front will likely be led by the Presidential Commission on Sexual Assault and Rape.
In addition to policy changes, the hiring of an in-house counsel, Claire Aigotti, brought more Title IX and related policy expertise to campus. Aigotti came to Butler from The University of Notre Dame and had experiences working at the collegiate level and also with sexual assault issues.
Aigotti has attended various conferences and trainings with Hunter and other administration members since her hiring in the fall.
Also, La Veda Howell was hired as director of human resources with her own background with Title IX and related grievance policies.
Howell was also largely behind the efforts to require unlawful harassment prevention training by all university staff last month.
“La Veda and Claire were not hired strictly to deal with Title IX related issues,” Hunter said. “They were a good fit for many other reasons and they filled a need at our university.”
When asked about the changes to policies or the hiring of new officials, Hunter said the university is keeping up with federal code and compliance as well as following national collegiate trends.
He also said that changes are not the effect of any specific cases or events in the past year.
Danko, in an email to The Collegian, said updates and improvements in the realm of sexual assault have been a major university focus all year.
“Many people at Butler have been working behind the scenes throughout the past academic year to bring the appropriate stakeholders together and plan improvements to our sexual assault education and prevention efforts,” he said. “This has been a topic of critical importance among the Board of Trustees, President’s Cabinet and Executive Council going back at least one year.”
Hunter said the Butler community can expect more change to university policy in the near future. This is largely in part due to things outlined in the Violence Against Women Act.
Specifically, Hunter said changes will be made to the definition and course of action taken against stalking and relationship violence, as well as the permission to bring in a legal advisor of choice into a sexual assault case within student affairs. Until this point, no outside legal counsel was permitted in these cases.
Hunter said the combination of so many different governing bodies, such as the Clery Act, Title IX and VAWA, can be confusing and conflicting with one another.
“There are a lot of things that are required in our policy that it is not our luxury to change,” Hunter said. “Many things are dictated by Congress and other governing bodies. The biggest things to continue to work on are transparency and protection.”
Goodman said she appreciated Danko’s acknowledgment of a problem via email, but she is unsure that a commission will completely solve the issue.
“The efforts made last year and the ones being proposed this year feel like an attempt to mollify those concerned rather than to actually address a problem,” she said. “None of us are against the administration. We want to work with them to fix a large and troubling issue.”