Statement on Sexual Assault

Michigan State University has made great strides in its handling of sexual assault reports since the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) opened its investigation in 2011.

OCR, which has completed its investigation of MSU, determined our response to two sexual assault complaints was not timely enough and that timeliness and policy deficiencies may have contributed to a hostile environment for some students and employees in the past. The OCR acknowledged MSU has made significant improvements in these areas since the investigation began.

More than 120 colleges and universities remain under investigation for how they handle Title IX complaints. A resolution agreement reached between MSU and OCR will remove us from that list, but it did not start—and it will not end—our efforts to address the problem of campus sexual assault and relationship violence.

This is a societal issue that needs a societal conversation. We have to be willing to talk through tough issues, and we must, above all, strive for fairness in a situation that may have begun as patently unfair for a survivor. Time also is an issue. We have to work through how we take the time to do thorough investigations yet maintain urgency and compassion by completing them as quickly as possible.

When viewed through that lens, I don’t see the OCR findings as an end of a process. I see them as yet more input we can use to help us move forward. We have been constantly making improvements on this serious and pervasive issue, using various sources of information and feedback to be better tomorrow than we are today.

Because we resolved from the start not to wait for OCR to complete its work before launching our own initiatives, we already have implemented solutions satisfying many of the requirements in the federal government’s resolution agreement. Those include creation of MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity to investigate all discrimination and harassment complaints and the adoption of a revised Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy.

We long have understood Michigan State is not isolated from sexual assault and harassment, domestic abuse, bullying, racism, and other social problems. We’ve been innovators and leaders in working on these issues for a long time. That’s why we created the Safe Place program 20 years ago to prevent and respond to relationship violence and stalking. We formed a university task force on sexual assault and relationship violence in 2004, and we re-commissioned it in 2014.

We require every incoming student to take an e-learning program called Sexual Assault First-year Education (SAFE) before the start of classes. All incoming undergraduate and transfer students also take the Sexual Assault Relationship Violence (SARV) Prevention session during their first year. In 2014 we implemented broad-based faculty and staff awareness training in addition to the annual Title IX training we give many of our police, staff, and students.

We improved and expanded our Sexual Harassment Policy using new government guidelines, including addressing reporting and investigation expectations, disciplinary hearings, counseling services, and education programs. We arranged greater cooperation between campus police and local law enforcement agencies.

No member of our community should be threatened by sexual violence. I frequently call on all members of our Michigan State community to be active participants in building a culture of respect and caring and remind them we need to look after one another. Anything less from any of us fails to live up to our values as Spartans and our potential as human beings.

Sept. 1, 2015