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‘One is too many’

| Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Student body vice president Nancy Joyce, president Alex Coccia, and Campus Minister Fr. Pete McCormick gather at the Grotto to pray for those involved with a sexual assault accusation on campus. MICHAEL YU I The Observer
Student body vice president Nancy Joyce, president Alex Coccia, and Campus Minister Fr. Pete McCormick gather at the Grotto to pray for those involved with a sexual assault accusation on campus.
After a sexual assault occurs on campus, students receive an emailed crime alert from Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), which is usually the first and last bit of information they hear about the incident. But behind that email notification, a response team rallies to coordinate resources all across campus for the students involved, Associate Vice President for Campus Safety Mike Seamon said.

Seamon said one reported sexual assault is too many, but the University’s response proceeds from “very close collaboration” among the relevant groups.

“If NDSP receives a report of a sexual assault, they’ll begin their investigation immediately and we have the resources to do that,” he said. “We would contact Student Affairs within hours of receiving that to bring them into the loop so they can make the resources available to all parties involved in that incident.

“So you’ll see that you’ll have a law enforcement and a Title IX or Student Affairs response being made available together almost instantaneously.”

Phil Johnson, chief of police for NDSP, said the goal of the email notifications is to release as much information allowed as quickly as they can, to get the word out to people.

“We certainly want to identify where the location is when we can, when we think it’s appropriate, but there are a number of factors that are going to come into play as we write a crime alert,” Johnson said. “We try to understand where we are in the investigation and what we can release at a given time. We still want the warning out there right away.”

Bill Stackman, associate vice president for student services and deputy Title IX coordinator, said although the Office of Student Affairs is obligated to investigate a sexual assault report and manage the case, the student involved can decide whether to also report the case criminally.

“As soon as we hear about a case, we meet with [the student] and we assign a resource coordinator to them,” Stackmansaid. “They have the option to report criminally, or do both at the same time … or they can ask us to defer our process.”

Stackman said the administration’s investigation process is “fact-finding” in nature, and because they are equally concerned with the complainant and the respondent, they provide resource coordinators to both parties for support.

“[If] we have a report, we are obligated by the federal government to investigate it, to gather information and then to move it forward, and that’s what we do,” he said. “But we make sure that in everything we do that we’re taking care of both individuals equally, and that one doesn’t feel that they are automatically seen as guilty.

“We’re sensitive to that perception so we try to really counter that as much as possible.”

Just because a case was reported does not mean it will be on the record of the students involved, Stackman said.

Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for student affairs, said only “in very rare cases” a conduct result would become part of a student’s personal record, and only when a student is found responsible.

“The support doesn’t cease with the end of the case,” Harding said. “There are many cases where the resource coordinators check in and offer support to the both of the students involved, even coming out of the process.

“The care of the University community is something we see as a very continuous process any time a student has gone through a difficult time, whatever the outcome.”

Stackman said a typical investigation of a sexual assault case could last around two to three weeks or longer, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of people involved in it. In order for the administration to investigate a case under Title IX, though, Stackman said both parties have to be students at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross.

“Let’s say a woman comes forward with a report of [being] assaulted by someone who was visiting campus. What we would do is provide her with all the support that we would just like if the respondent was a Notre Dame student; it would be identical,” he said. “I’d assign a resource coordinator to that person and let them know about their options outside of the University because there wouldn’t be any options here because the respondent is not a student. We would not have an administrative dealing, but there could be criminal options that she would have that we’d want her to be aware of.”

Harding said the Office of Student Affairs makes a point of partnering with both the student body and the broader community in preventing sexual assault.

“We want this to be a campus free of sexual harassment, misconduct or assault,” Harding said. “Everyone wants the same goal, and we consider the student body, the administrators, faculty and security our partners in this effort to do everything first and foremost that we can do to prevent these instances from happening at all.

“If and when they do occur, I feel great about the support and the resources that we provide to investigate thoroughly and sensitively anything that occurs and to care for both students involved in the process.”

Christine Caron Gebhardt, director of the Gender Relations Center, said the recent changes in freshman orientation and the move from the Office of Residential Life to the Office of Community Standards marks “a shifted focus of conversation” toward a more community-driven approach. The Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention has launched a big effort to train bystanders to react to sexual assault situations, she said.

“I’ve heard students say there are some basic bystander obstacles for why people don’t intervene,” she said. “Í don’t know what to do’… ‘I’m afraid this isn’t my business’… ‘Am I the person to do this?’

“Well, building community at Notre Dame says this is your business; this is about us taking care of each other. [The training] is happening at a level where students can really be empowered to create the kind of community that we all believe and we all envision together.”

Caron Gebhardt said students should not be discouraged to report or intervene because there may be other rule violations involved, such as alcohol use or parietals.

“I believe we have within Du Lac an understanding that because sexual assault is one of the most egregious things that we have, it becomes our highest priority and the other situations become issues that are secondary,” she said. “Any witness coming forward that may be involved in any other policy violation, that would be taken into consideration in the conduct process. So we really want people to step forward, knowing that.”

Harding said she has seen “terrific examples” of concerned students coming forward to report assaults either as victims or bystanders.

“Our first and primary hope is that these instances will not occur, but when and if they do, we want our students to know that there are resources available for them to go through this process and to be surrounded by others within the community,” she said.

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at [email protected]


About Ann Marie Jakubowski

Senior News Writer, formerly Editor-in-Chief. English and Spanish double major, minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. Grand Rapids, Mich., native. Notre Dame Class of 2015.

Contact Ann Marie