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Faculty letter urges college to investigate alleged failures

by Laura Gomez / Beacon Staff • October 31, 2013

During a faculty assembly meeting on Oct. 22, professors collectively put out a statement expressing their concern with recent allegations made public by three students who say the college mishandled their reports of sexual assault. The letter also applauds President M. Lee Pelton for seeking a Sexual Assault Advocate, and asks the college to hold accountable whoever erred in the alleged mishandling of the cases.

“We urge the administrators who are reviewing this case to not only consider what can be done better in the future but what failed in the past and why,” reads the statement, which Roy Kamada, chair of the Faculty Council and teacher in the writing, literature, and publishing department, shared with the Beacon. 

Kamada said professors felt it was very important for the faculty as a whole to make a statement.

“We wanted to reiterate to the student body that we place a very high priority to [reports of sexual violence],” he said.

All 193 full-time professors, and some administrators, are part of the monthly faculty assembly meeting, said Kamada. The Faculty Council is a 12-member governing body that acts as the official liaison between the faculty and the administration, student organizations, and the college community. 

At the October meeting, attended by about 130 faculty members, teachers voted and unanimously approved the statement, said Kamada.  

Jerry Lanson, a journalism professor and member of the Faculty Council, said although he believes the administration has generally responded well to the complaint, he drafted the letter to let students know that faculty shared their concerns.

“It’s not only important to look forward, but to look back at why and how this happened,” said Lanson. “If something was badly mishandled there should be some consequences in order to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

According to Pelton, Emerson will seek an external review to evaluate if the college’s current policies on sexual assault are in compliance with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender in educational programs. He said the external probe will also look at particular cases where Emerson investigated reports of sexual assault. 

Pelton, who met with the Board of Trustees on Oct. 23 and 24, said he is working with that group to select a team that will conduct the review. He couldn’t provide a specific date of when the review will begin.

Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, said she was present at the October faculty meeting to inform faculty that if a student reports a sexual assault to administrators, they are required under Title IX to report it to Emerson’s Title IX coordinator, Alexa Jackson.

“I’m pleased that the faculty are engaged and took the time to craft a statement that all faculty support,” said Spears. “It shows our entire community that our faculty are listening and are interested on making progress in this issue.”

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article did not make clear that the faculty interviewed are satisfied with the administration's response to the complaint. The faculty did express their content with the steps taken by the college to the reporter.