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College administration responds to sexual assault with task force to encourage conversation

| Tuesday, November 17, 2015

WEB SexualAssault_NewsEric Richelsen | The Observer

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a five-part series on sexual assault at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Today’s stories focus on the University and College actions and initiatives in response to sexual assault.

The Saint Mary’s administration and the Student Government Association (SGA) have responded to the nationwide movement of college students pushing schools to take more action against sexual assault on campus by creating a more open dialogue among Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross, as well as implementing a Task Force to focus on the issue.

In a letter to the students Apr. 29, College President Carol Ann Mooney announced the creation of the Presidential Task Force. She said the task force would be comprised of students, faculty and staff and would promote the conversation about sexual violence.

“This task force will recommend ways to further improve our efforts to prevent sexual assault and sexual misconduct and to assist and support student survivors of sexual assault,” Mooney said in the letter. “It will also examine procedures for handling cases of sexual assault when they occur.”

The task force held its first meeting Sept. 18, according to an email dated Sept. 22 in which Mooney announced she would send a campus-wide email summarizing each meeting. She said the task force will address three issues: steps to reduce and eliminate sexual assault, ways to improve the College’s procedures for handling claims of sexual violence and ways to better support students who have survived sexual violence. The email also announced the formation of three subcommittees — education, procedures and support — to address each of these issues.

Building a task force

Regina Wilson, director of Campus Ministry and chair of the support committee on the task force, said the task force meets once a month.

“The three committees are working independently, and at the larger task force meeting we share our minutes and the work we’ve done, and then there’s interaction,” she said.

Wilson said the future of the task force after this school year is unknown; Mooney, who commissioned the group, will retire at the end of this school year.

Junior Caylin McCallick, a member of the procedures committee, said specific details about the group’s meetings cannot be made public until the task force releases its official minutes. Though it was originally announced that the task force would release the previous meeting’s minutes after the following meeting, McCallick said the task force currently plans to wait for the College’s new website to launch before doing so.

The procedures committee in particular has been tasked with updating the Title IX process at the College, McCallick said.

“There’s a set [way] to handle Title IX,” she said. “Just because you’re complying with the rules doesn’t mean it’s on time or doesn’t mean it’s going as smoothly as possible for all the parties involved.

“We really want a system of accountability for all parties involved in the claim,” she said. “We’re working to make sure everyone is held responsible for their individual parts of the Title IX process.”

“My goal is to make [the task force] a voice for students,” McCallick said. “I’m open to people telling me what they’ve experienced and seeing if I can bring that to the discussion and seeing what we can do about it. I’m also hoping that it brushes off the cobwebs of things we didn’t used to talk about.

“I know that this is a hot topic on campus, and I think it should be because it’s something that affects all of us,” she said. “I hope that it accomplishes the goals that Mooney set out to accomplish.”

Mooney sent an email Monday with the most recent update on the task force. The email included names of all current members on the task force, as well as specifications for the intended end result of the task force.

“The taskforce will write a report that will be delivered to the community no later than May 1, 2015,” the email said. “The report will contain: a list of what measures we currently take to educate our students; what is currently available for our students; suggestions and recommendations for improvements to what we are currently doing and recommended next steps and suggestions for change.”

Finding support in ministry

Wilson said Campus Ministry’s role in the issue of sexual assault is for the most part one of support.

“We are all trained,” Wilson said. “We have professional ministry degrees so we are all trained to spend time with students and to provide pastoral care to them.”

She said the College recently defined Campus Ministry’s role in the sexual assault process for students.

Wilson said. “All the campus ministers are a confidential resource for students who have experienced sexual violence.”

Wilson said her role in the process is meeting with students and listening to anything they have to say. She said she will encourage the students to seek other resources if the student wishes.

“Because we’re pastoral care, we’re here if they want to pray,” Wilson said. “If they have questions related to their faith or spirituality that have been affected by their experience…we’re here to be with them and to in a sense be a presence of God offering them care and attention and assurance that they’re supported and loved.”

Working within SGA

Student body president Kaitlyn Baker said although SGA’s role in dealing with sexual violence has largely been turned over to the task force, they still have done some work in terms of addressing the issue.

“[Vice President] Maddie [Kohler] and I meet once a month with the presidents and vice presidents of Holy Cross College and Notre Dame,” Baker said. “The sexual assault topic is something we touch on every time. … We’ve been giving them feedback on our students’ experiences and changes we’re making over here as well as things they can do over there to help and vise versa.”

Baker said Notre Dame’s student council consulted SGA in regards to their proposal to the University’s Board of Trustees, which outlined four categories on the issue of sexual assault for the Board to address.

“We worked together to help them get in contact with different students who have had experiences over at Notre Dame dealing with sexual assault,” she said. “They reached out to Saint Mary’s students to get that feedback. … They did a good job in getting a lot of different student perspectives from Saint Mary’s as well as Notre Dame, and pointing out some of the changes that need to be made over there, especially when it comes to how their process works.”

SGA does not plan on delivering a similar proposal to Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees; however, the College’s Board interacts with students on a regular basis, and discusses issues including sexual assault, Baker said.

She said SGA also partners with the College’s Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO), and there are plans to have an SGA representative work closely with BAVO and sit on BAVO’s Green Dot Campus Committee, which consists of 20 faculty, staff and students and whose goal is to promote campus culture change.

Although Baker said she does not work closely with the administration on sexual assault, she said she does bring issues to their attention when students express concern.

“I meet with administration multiple times a week … If students come up to me with concerns or things they want to see changed, I’m always bringing it up,” she said.

Baker said the biggest concerns students raised were about the investigators involved in the Title IX process and the fact that the College’s legal counsel is also the Title IX coordinator.

“The three investigators were hired out,” Baker said. “The task force is deciding on if the legal counsel and the Title IX coordinator need to be two separate positions or not.”

In addition to acting as an intermediary between students and administration, Baker said she wants to encourage more students to attend the Title IX trainings that occur each semester.

“The Title IX training actually brings representatives from Notre Dame who are familiar with their system and talk to our students about what that process would look like if you were to go over there,” she said.

“ … I don’t think anyone realizes how much that training encompasses,” she said. “It’s not just going over what Title IX is. It’s really going over what it is, how that looks on our campus, what that looks like if it’s violated, and it also goes over what that looks like for a Saint Mary’s student over on Notre Dame’s campus.”

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole