On Sexual Assault at Williams

To the Williams Community,

I want to raise the visibility on campus of a national problem that’s also very much present at Williams: sexual assault. Its prevalence and impact are often misunderstood, and the subject can be difficult to discuss. But one of the most important tools in combating sexual assault is knowledge, and so it’s urgent that we do talk about it.

Resources for reporting sexual assault and for seeking support are listed later in this letter, but I’ll start with some context.

National surveys report that one in five women, and one in sixteen men, are sexually assaulted while in college. These appalling numbers are quite consistent across types of institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to large universities. Sadly, we have no reason to believe that Williams differs. In surveys conducted at Williams last year, 19 percent of our female students and 4 percent of our male students reported sexual touching without their consent over the previous twelve months. Some 0.3 percent of our men and 4 percent of our women reported sexual penetration without their consent – rape – in the previous 12 months. (These rates are similar to, and in some cases somewhat higher than, those of our peer schools who fielded the same survey.)

Sexual assaults profoundly affect students in every part of their experience at college – academically, socially, and in the community. And, of course, those effects often continue well beyond their college years.

The fact that sexual assaults affect so many students at Williams – hundreds each year – is completely unacceptable. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are personal violations that are often life-changing, and we must do everything in our power to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, them here.

The ongoing effort to improve sexual assault response and prevention has gained significant momentum at Williams over the past year. Last fall, Vice President Mike Reed created a task force – the members of which included Campus Safety, Health Services, the Dean’s Office, Athletics, the Multicultural Center, and student leaders – to discuss our current approaches and how they should be improved. As a result, we’re working to advance our practices around response, support, investigation, prevention, and awareness. The efforts of the task force are urgent and ongoing, and deeply involve all branches of student services.

One crucial aspect of prevention is holding perpetrators accountable through effective investigations and appropriate disciplinary sanctions. Nationally, and at Williams, the great difficulties that survivors face in reporting an assault, while at the same time processing their trauma, result in most sexual assaults going unreported. To help reduce barriers to reporting, we’re improving our support for survivors before, during, and after the process of reporting and investigation.

Let me be clear – sexual assault cannot be tolerated at Williams. The Williams Code of Conduct (http://dean.williams.edu/?page_id=1762 ) forbids sexual assault as defined in Massachusetts law and in our own community standards. Those found to have committed sexual assault have been suspended or expelled from the college. (There have been four such cases over the past year.) In the future, we’ll continue to require that those who commit these violations be separated from the college.

Other keys to prevention are education and awareness. Although discussions of sexual assault currently take place several times each year – from JA and Baxter Fellow training to First Days, Claiming Williams, entry talks, and Take Back the Night – we need to do much more to create a campus culture that is attentive to the possibility of assault and to the necessity of intervening to stop it. Dean Sarah Bolton, Vice President Steve Klass, Mike Reed, and their teams are collaborating with students to move this crucial work forward.

My appreciation goes to all of the students, staff, and faculty who are working with us to end sexual assault at Williams. My particular thanks go to the students in the Rape and Sexual Assault Network, and to Director of Health Services Ruth Harrison and Health Educator Donna Denelli-Hess, who’ve worked tirelessly and effectively on these issues for many years.

There’s a great deal to do, but it’s urgent that we do it. You’ll hear from me again about the status of this work before the end of the spring term.

Adam Falk

Resources for students who’ve experienced sexual assault or are concerned about a friend who’s been assaulted:

Sexual Assault Survivor Services – Expert Williams Health Services staff available 24/7 for support and guidance. (413) 441-6783.

Rape and Sexual Assault Network – Students with training in supporting those who have experience sexual violence. (413) 597-4100

Elizabeth Freeman Center – An off campus resource for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (413) 499-2425

All student services staff (Health Services, Multicultural Center, Dean’s Office, Campus Safety, Student Life, Chaplains) are trained to support survivors and connect them to further resources.

For more information on what happens when you report an assault, and on contacting Williams resources and/or the police, see http://dean.williams.edu/?page_id=1762 .