University 'Call to Action' marks efforts to combat sexual misconduct

September 09, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Marking the steps the University has taken so far to combat sexual misconduct and looking ahead to how those efforts will continue, President Eric Barron and other administrators, student leaders and faculty gathered on Sept. 8 to issue a “Call to Action.”

“Penn State Call to Action: Stopping Sexual Misconduct” follows ongoing efforts across the University and work by the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment. One of the 18 recommendations made by the task force was to hold an event to bring attention to the issues related to sexual misconduct.

Barron noted the work that has already taken place at the University in the past six months and progress on implementing the task force recommendations, including: creating a Title IX coordinator position, with a search underway; switching to an investigative model when responding to cases of sexual misconduct; preparing a student climate survey that will be launched this year and provide information on the nature and scope of the problem; and establishing memorandum of understanding to ensure collaboration with local law enforcement agencies at all Penn State campuses.

Other initiatives, Barron said, are establishing a joint faculty, staff and student committee that is exploring issues of student well being and safety, with an emphasis on building positive relations and preventing sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse; and launching a bystander intervention initiative to mobilize community members and help them respond appropriately.

“Certainly these actions are going to have a very positive impact on our community. Today is rightfully a celebration of our commitment to becoming a national leader in addressing these issues,” Barron said.

“We’re taking very positive steps, but we have to realize that we need something more. We need for today’s event not just to be a celebration of the steps that we’ve taken…  but also a defining moment that says, ‘We have had enough,’” Barron said. “It is a call to action to unite and end sexual violence and misconduct. It’s a chance for us to leave a legacy of safety for all Penn State campuses and surrounding communities.”

Watch the "Penn State Call to Action"

Emily McDonald, president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, moderated the event, which included a panel discussion and questions from the audience, both in person and online.

“It is on every single one of us to stop these wrongdoings,” McDonald said.

Katie Tenny, chair of Penn State’s Bystander Intervention Initiative, said most people have had experiences in life where they saw something and wanted to step in to help someone, but something got in the way. The bystander intervention training, she said, teaches people about they can intervene in safe and effective ways.

“If everyone contributes in small ways to prevent violence, then it’s going to create a cultural shift,” she said.

The University-wide effort will be launched in spring 2016.

Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, who led the task force, moderated a panel discussion which included: Tenny; Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry; Ken Lehrman, vice provost for Affirmative Action; Sarah Clark Miller, associate professor of philosophy and women’s studies; and Shawn Lichvar, president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments.

Bechtel-Wherry, who talked about the variety of approaches and initiatives at Penn State Altoona, said it will take an ongoing commitment, but she is confident the University can make a difference.

“It’s not something that can be done at one gathering like this,” she said. “It takes all of us to find a way to get involved, to do something, to volunteer and make a difference. To be available to students, to listen to them, to talk with them.”

Sims said the University isn’t starting from the beginning, but building upon past successes. He said everyone needs to think about what they can contribute to addressing the issue and making the University a national leader.

“This is a community issue. This is not just for Student Affairs or even just for students to take ownership of. This is one of those issues that requires all of our attention,” Sims said.

He later added that it is a “call to action.”

“As we explore this issue and what we’re trying to do to address it even more meaningfully than we have, we’re going to find that we will slip and fall a few times; we will make some mistakes. We will do some things that don’t work as well as we’d like perhaps, but this an evolutionary process and we’re going to try to get it right,” Sims said. “This is an institution that collectively is determined to do that, because it’s the right thing to do, not only for our students, but for all of us in the communities we serve. I’m really pleased to be part of a university that is determined to be a national leader on this front, and I’m glad that all of you are here to join in that cause.”

  • Call to Action-Emily McDonald

    Emily McDonald, University Park Undergraduate Association president, welcomed guests, faculty and student leaders to the Penn State Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment first 'Call to Action' meeting on Sept. 8 at the HUB-Robeson Center.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell
Last Updated September 23, 2020