William & Mary acts on sexual violence task force's findings

A task force established at The College of William and Mary to review its policies on sexual assault and harassment released its findings this summer.

Before releasing the findings, the university implemented several of its recommendations for immediate action, including adding a new Title IX investigator position to assist the Title IX coordinator Kiersten Boyce with reporting and cases. It also created a permanent committee to continue the task force’s work.

“The task force heard too often that students weren’t sure where to go or who to contact either to report sexual misconduct or to find additional information,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler, who served as chair of the task force. “In fact, we learned that a very small percentage of those who had experienced sexual violence actually reported the incident to the university.”

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools receiving federal funding. Sexual violence and harassment also come under the law's purview.

Task force members advised university officials to make reporting simple and information on how to report incidents readily available.

In its residence halls, William and Mary officials posted “I’ve been sexually assaulted ... “ posters that detail how to get medical help, have a confidential conversation with a Title IX coordinator, or file a report.

William and Mary also revised its sexual misconduct policies and procedures and will now use an investigation and administrative process to handle complaints.

“Sexual violence afflicts society generally, including campuses – high school, college and university -- across the country,” William and Mary president Taylor Reveley said. “It will take all of us working together to combat it at William and Mary. This is an important reality: the job is not someone else’s to do; it’s for each of us and all of us, students, faculty and staff. This is the only way serious, lasting change will occur.”

In May 2014, William and Mary appeared on a U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights list of 55 higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

The school’s appearance on the list stems from an April 2014 complaint filed with the federal office. Specific details on the case were not available Friday.

James Madison University, the University of Virginia, University of Richmond, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University were also on the list, which grew to more than 105 schools, by January, according to the department’s website.

Appearing on the list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation did not indicate that a college or university violated the law, officials said. Institutions found in violation of Title IX can face penalties including losing federal funding.

In a September 2014 announcement, the university’s president established the task force comprised of students, faculty and staff. Chaired by Ambler, its focus was preventing sexual assault and harassment at the university.

William and Mary's communications and university relations associate vice president Brian Whitson said the university did not establish the task force as a result of the Title IX investigation.

“This is an important issue on college campuses and the president convened the task force so that we could formally bring together many areas of campus to work together on it,” Whitson said Thursday in an e-mail message.

Reach Canty at (757) 345-2341.


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