By SUSAN JONES
The one thing very clear from the AAU campus climate survey on sexual assault and misconduct released last week is that these incidents are still “far, far, far too prevalent” on college campuses, including Pitt, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said at the Oct. 16 Senate Council meeting.
The survey, conducted in the spring at 33 AAU schools, had an overall response rate of 15 percent at Pitt. The percentage of students reporting they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent since entering college was sobering:
- Undergraduates: 26.9 percent of women and 6.6 percent of men
- Graduate/professional students: 10.8 percent of women and 3.3 percent of men
- TGQN (trans man or woman, genderqueer or nonbinary, questioning, or not listed) students: 28.7 percent
Gallagher, in a letter to the Pitt community, outlined an aggressive approach to try to find solutions to this problem. He wants to make the call to action “as broad as possible,” and not just tackle the problem through an administrative response.
ADDRESSING SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
Already, there a few events planned to talk about issues surrounding sexual misconduct on campus:
- What works in preventing gender violence? Researchers and practitioners dialogue about emerging data: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 7, William Pitt Union ballroom, Co-sponsored by the Pitt Office of Health Sciences Diversity
- Title IX Town Hall: 4-5 p.m. Nov. 14, 630 William Pitt Union. Discuss and review results from the AAU Campus Climate Survey, learn about reporting Title IX incidents, and have Title IX questions answered.
“The administration’s not going to come in and have the answers. No one has shown that model will work anywhere,” Gallagher said after the Senate meeting.
While admitting this is an issue much larger than the Pitt campuses, when people are here, “they’re our responsibility,” Gallagher said.
“I think we have to make every effort possible that people aren’t harmed by sexual assault, sexual harassment,” he said. “Does that mean it’s going to be easy? No. Does it mean we can create an alternate reality bubble and Pitt ignores the fact that we’re part of this societal issue? No. But I don’t think that gives us a pass to say this is too big for us and we’re just going to have to ride it out.”
The approach Pitt is taking has several arms:
- An education and prevention office to centralize available resources and programming, strengthen data collection and track outcomes. Gallagher said the Title IX office has been mostly concerned with compliance issues, while this new office will focus on prevention. “When you’re mobilizing the University broadly, everyone’s first question is, ‘OK, where do we go for help?’ ” This office will help those who are trying to come up with solutions.
- An education and prevention task force that will leverage experts from within the Pitt community to help evaluate and advance promising solutions. “The idea there was really simple,” he said. “We’ve got real experts in this area, so why shouldn’t we tap the people we have in this community that really are leaders in their field.” He said he’s already been getting emails from people who want to help.
- Dedicated funding streams to energize grassroots solutions. These will include: A separate Pitt Seed funding cycle devoted to financing faculty and staff solutions for preventing sexual misconduct; additional grants for student groups promoting a positive culture change to prevent sexual misconduct; and grants, selected via a peer review process, to fund research on preventing sexual misconduct.
- Listening sessions to answer questions and gather real-time feedback on proposed solutions and new opportunities.
- A new website for sharing information and ideas, asking questions and exploring ways to get involved. The website, which is already up, also has links to the AAU report and Gallagher’s statement.
Gallagher said he was hoping the report would show “evidence that what we were doing was having an impact on the overall prevalence.” Some of the numbers actually increased from the original AAU survey in 2015, but he said this could be because people aren’t as stigmatized to be honest about these incidents.
He said that after the first report, the University was mostly focused on having a functioning compliance system, along with general education and bystander training. “Maybe what’s happening is we’re getting a little bit more mature about how we think about it, moving beyond those early days when it was about is this real or not,” Gallagher said.
Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner also sent a letter to the community and in a statement said, “The results of this survey for the University of Pittsburgh are sobering. Despite our intentional and sustained efforts, our students continue to be harmed by incidents of sexual misconduct, and that is not acceptable. Each one of us has a role to play in shaping this community, and we can transform ourselves into a community that does not tolerate violence against anyone.”
The 2019 report highlights the need to take a closer look at some specialized populations, Gallagher said, such as African-Americans, the LGBTQ and disabled communities, and graduate students having issues with faculty.
Anthony Verardi, president of the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences Graduate Student Organization, was visibly emotional when he told Senate Council that, “Platitudes are not enough to dismantle the structures of power that have enabled this.”
In a later interview, Verardi said, “This is very much a lived reality; this is a lived experience. We’re on the ground, actually having to go through this, as opposed to folks maybe sitting in offices and planning how to get better about doing these things, but still not experiencing it as viscerally as we are.”
Verardi said he was particular struck by the difference between undergraduate and graduate students who said their harasser was a faculty member, coach or other administrator. For undergraduate women it was around 11.7 percent, while graduate/professional women said 36.5 of their harassers fell in this category. For men it was 9.3 percent vs. 36.5 percent, and for the TGQN population it was 36.6 percent.
Many of the issues Verardi has dealt with during his year and a half as GSO president have centered around Title IX complaints — “That’s a super common complaint, that Title IX is not responding in the way that they want to.”
One of the other key findings from the AAU report was on if victims felt they’re complaints would be taken seriously if they reported an incident. Overall, 65.4 percent said they felt campus officials would take the report very or extremely seriously, only 52.2 percent felt as strongly that campus officials would conduct a fair investigation.
“For years, people have been saying, ‘we’ve been involved in a Title IX process in our department, but nothing has come of it or nothing is able to come of it,’ for whatever reason, and it’s been very difficult for me as a student representative to really get to the bottom of why,” he said.
“I do think there is always a more nuanced story,” Verardi said. “Whether someone is happy with the outcome is very different from whether the complaint was responded to, and I try to understand that, but I would like more transparency in terms of outcome satisfaction.”
Verardi was pleased with the chancellor’s comments during Senate Council. “I do appreciate very much the tone of his response. I appreciate the fact that he is clearly emotionally invested as well in this right, and Vice Provost Bonner also had some really good things to say in his messaging about the issue.
“I am very happy that we are moving toward a community-based model for approaching this. And I’ve also had conversations with folks from Title IX and from the general counsel’s office about the idea of moving to a more restorative or reparative justice model as opposed to a punitive model … having some other kind of option available.”
In the end, Verardi said, no one is immune to the types of thinking that lead to harassment, and “We can’t change the outcome if we’re not changing the culture.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.
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