Sexual assault, harassment task force work is nearing completion

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The task force that was charged in July by Penn State President Eric Barron to look at issues surrounding sexual violence is wrapping up the year with plans to present its findings no later than the second week in January 2015.

Meetings over the past six months have been held weekly with task force members addressing campus climate issues, policies and programs, and looking at best practices that will make the University “a true leader in the prevention of sexual assault,” as Barron has asked. Task force members will meet with Barron after the first of the year, and the president will consider their recommendations and announce an action plan for implementation in the months to follow.

Penn State has addressed sexual violence on its campuses for decades and improved related policies and practices. To take the University’s efforts to the next level, Barron gave the task force a wide berth to comprehensively evaluate all of Penn State's activities relating to sexual assault and other forms of sexual or gender-based harassment. He has asked for recommendations from the group that will ensure Penn State’s programs, policies and practices are as effective and strong as possible.

Task force members have brought a range of expertise and perspectives to the discussion, with representatives from faculty ranks, students from University Park and campuses, University Police; Office of General Counsel; Office of Student Conduct, the Center for Women Students and others from Student Affairs; Athletics; federal and University policy and compliance, including Affirmative Action and Title IX coordination; Office of Human Resources; and Counseling and Psychological Services.

The collective work of five task force subcommittees -- victim services, enforcement, policy and compliance, communication, and education and training -- has been expeditious but thorough. Their goals have included the following reviews and recommendations:

  •  Emphasizing the importance of comprehensive services and education for all students, faculty and staff;
  •  Identifying ways to centralize and improve coordination of services and programs already in place, and ensuring that they are cohesive in nature;
  •  Clarifying and streamlining processes with one central, University-wide approach;
  •  Expanding effective, evidence-based practices that will be continuously assessed;
  •  Adding to services and programs now available, and acknowledging that some additional staffing may be needed to administer those services;
  •  Encouraging solutions and messages that are sustainable over time; and
  •  Advocating for full community involvement, beyond campus boundaries, and assumption of community-wide responsibility for a safe, caring environment.
Next steps

The Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment is continuing its work beyond the end of finals week, refining language and adding specific details to the final report and its recommendations. Their work may continue well into the new year as it is decided what recommendations will be implemented.

“Sexual violence is hardly a new issue in higher education. The task force has been diligently engaged trying to address the problem of sexual assault where it exists, and we believe we can improve our response to it with a centralized, coordinated process at all locations, one that fills the existing gaps we have identified,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs and chair of the task force.

“Penn State is committed to its legal obligations, but just as important is our commitment to do what is right. More than simply responding to legal mandates, which is important, we seek to emphasize a culture of caring that effectively addresses the issue in every way reasonably possible,” Sims added.

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Last Updated April 17, 2017