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Observer Editorial: Board of Trustees, respond to student government

| Friday, November 6, 2015

On Oct. 17, student body president and vice president Bryan Ricketts and Nidia Ruelas presented the first of two reports they will make this year to the University’s Board of Trustees.

The report, which totaled 30 pages, is the product of an immense amount of work that included interviews with University administrators, members of hall staff and students who have been through the Title IX process either as a complainant or respondent.

The last section of the report lays out a series of recommendations to the Board based on student government’s findings, which have been divided into four categories: campus climate for reporting and support, campus sexual violence policies, the Title IX process and accountability.

While all the recommendations should be taken into consideration, we identified a few as not only the most important, but also the most feasible.

We emphasize the need to improve Notre Dame’s communication with Saint Mary’s on matters relating to sexual violence and other Title IX offenses. Saint Mary’s students currently face significant barriers and disincentives to reporting sexual assaults and abuses that do not exist for Notre Dame students.

For example, the report explained when a no-contact order is issued between the complainant and respondent in Title IX cases, the University notifies NDSP and hall staff if the complainant is a Notre Dame student. If the complainant is a Saint Mary’s student, though, she must take it upon herself to inform the College’s security and administration.

Though this may seem like a small issue, it is a burden placed on Saint Mary’s students that Notre Dame students do not face. More communication between the University and the College could alleviate added pressure on survivors.

The report also requests the inclusion of emotional violence in the University’s Dating and Domestic Violence policy. This would classify emotional violence as a Title IX crime, allowing victims of emotional violence access to more resources than they would otherwise be entitled. Since emotional violence is so often a precursor to other violent behavior, we feel this action would have the potential to prevent further sexual and physical violence.

The final section of the recommendations calls for greater accountability and transparency from the University. In particular, it requests the University release raw data from the 2015 Campus Climate Survey, as well as data on sexual assault reports from the Office of Community Standards (OCS). The report claims 27 schools in the Association of American Universities — peer institutions of Notre Dame — have released the data and findings from campus climate surveys they have conducted in the last few years, so there are precedents. The report additionally requests the release of data about how many cases are reported each year, how many of those proceed to University conduct process hearings and how many respondents are found responsible.

While students’ privacy must be taken into consideration, many students underestimate the number of cases of sexual violence that occur on campus and between its students. We take issue with this; if we continue to underestimate the problem, we cannot address it properly.

Importantly, in addition to its recommendations to the Board, student government developed a nine-item list of commitments it has pledged to take on itself, including continuing efforts for sexual assault prevention and awareness and working with campus administrators, hall staff and students.

The University does not require the Board issue an official response to the report or the recommendations put forth within it. We demand they do so anyway.

A meaningful response must do more than simply reaffirm the Board’s commitment to survivors. It must thoughtfully outline how the Board intends to respond, what recommendations it will consider implementing and an explanation of why it will not implement the others.

The fact of the matter is students — and student government, by extension — can only do so much, and change needs to come from both students and administration. We all want to live on a campus where sexual assault doesn’t happen, but given the grim national data, that isn’t a realistic expectation.

What is realistic, however, is expecting an institutional commitment to listen to and heed what survivors on this campus say and to take seriously any suggestions they might have for improving campus climate or the disciplinary and investigative processes.

To Board chairman Richard Notebaert and the other Trustees: You have been given the opportunity to visibly demonstrate your commitment to survivors of sexual violence at Notre Dame — how are you going to use it?

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  • David Kashangaki

    Hope this gets some public response from the Trustees!