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June 13, 2014, Message from the VP of Campus Life

This is the first of three updates planned for this summer to inform the campus community about efforts to address the critical issues raised by a chain of e-mails released in April from the underground group of students known as Epsilon Iota (EI). The e-mails suggested members of the group were engaging in a range of harmful and potentially illegal activities, starkly inconsistent with American University’s values. The alleged activities included abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as abuse of other AU students in alleged acts that may have included sexual assaults.

As a community we knew we had to confront the proposition that some of the conduct surfaced in the EI e-mails also occurs in other aspects of campus life - beyond EI. The EI incident was a call to action.

Our response has been to investigate fully the activities described in the e-mails and hold students responsible for violations of the Conduct Code and the law where there is sufficient evidence to do so. We are also committed to implementing measures that:

  • affirm our community standards,
  • give students tools to navigate risky situations safely and
  • provide students with the resources to recover should they become victims, particularly of sexual assault.

Student Conduct and Law Enforcement. Campus Life immediately contacted every individual named in the EI e-mail chain that was an AU student in Spring 2014 and appeared to be a target or victim of abuse by EI to inquire about their well-being and inform them about support services and procedures for filing complaints.

  • To date, no individuals have filed complaints related to actions described in the e-mails. However, there was sufficient evidence for the University to bring one Student Conduct case. That case has been concluded.
  • Public Safety has prepared reports for all e-mails to support investigations into criminality, and AU’s Clery crime log has been updated.
  • Some matters are still under investigation by law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Intervention Strategies. AU’s new intervention strategies to address sexual misconduct are being guided by the recommendations from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). They are directed toward: I. Policy Development; II. Education & Training; III. Victim Support; IV. Campus Climate Assessment; Following is an account of progress to date in these areas.

I. Policy Development
The Conduct Advisory Board proposed, and President Kerwin has approved, additions and refinements to the Student Conduct Code so that our definition of “Prohibited Conduct” aligns with sexual violence terms outlined in VAWA 2013. The changes are effective immediately.

  • Prohibited Conduct now includes “Interpersonal violence including, but not limited to, physical assault, dating violence and domestic violence.”
  • Stalking and Harassment are now listed as separate violations.
  • The definition of Stalking has been amended to: “Repeated, unwanted contact with any person, including contact by electronic means or by proxy, or the credible threat of repeated contact with the intent to place a reasonable person in fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family or close acquaintances or to inflict substantial emotional distress.”

In addition, these new definitions have been added to the Student Conduct Code:

  • Physical Assault: “Unwanted physical contact or the use of physical force to threaten or cause physical injury, pain, or illness.”
  • Dating Violence: “Violence or abusive behavior against an intimate partner (romantic, dating, or sexual partner) that seeks to control the partner or has caused harm to the partner (the harm may be physical, verbal, emotional, economic, or sexual in nature). The existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on consideration of the following factors: the length of the relationship, the type of relationship, and the frequency of the interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.”
  • Domestic Violence: “Violence or abusive behavior against a roommate, family member, or intimate partner that causes physical or psychological injury, pain, or illness.”

II. Education & Training
Sexual assault prevention education and training, particularly bystander intervention training, is identified by the White House Task Force as one of the strategies with the greatest promise for reducing incidents of sexual assault.

  • New Bystander Intervention Program. This summer, AU is launching a new bystander intervention program at Eagle Summit and during Welcome Week 2014. The program is adapted from the highly rated STEP UP! program developed by the NCAA in collaboration with the University of Arizona. Two Campus Life staff members secured a grant to participate in STEP UP! training this summer. They will take the lead in training others.
    • All new students will learn how to apply the program’s Five Decision Making Steps: (1) Notice the Event, (2) Interpret it as a Problem (3) Assume Personal Responsibility, (4) Know How to Help, and (5) STEP UP!
    • STEP UP! training is already scheduled for orientation coordinators and leaders, residence hall staff (resident assistants, program associates, desk receptionists, and Residence Hall Association leaders), and all student athletes. Other trainings and education sessions will be scheduled for fall to include fraternity and sorority members and other student leaders.
    • Under development are: a training video; bystander related Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for the campus’electronic message boards and related print materials to distribute and post. The bystander intervention program will also be promoted on campus through the Wellness Cabana, the residence hall bathroom bulletin (Flushington Post), and social media.
  • Online Education. Beginning this summer, all graduate and law students will be expected to complete the online course, Haven-Understanding Sexual Assault (EverFi), prior to their arrival at AU for the fall semester. New undergraduates have had this expectation for several years. Haven teaches lessons about healthy relationships, the importance of consent and being a good communicator, and the many ways you can help create a safe and positive campus community. Haven includes a pre- and post-survey, and all responses are confidential. The university receives only information about students as a population, never individual answers.

III. Victim Support
We know that expanding resources for victim advocacy is a priority for many in the AU community. We are evaluating service use data from the past year, skill sets of current staff and DC community resources to determine the most effective way to add capacity to current services. We will report more on this important objective in the July Update.

IV. Campus Climate Assessment
Sexual Assault prevention work at AU has been informed in recent years by data from the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment and survey research conducted by AU Professor Jane Palmer.

  • We are evaluating new assessment instruments developed from the tool kit made available by the White House Task Force and will have an assessment plan ready for the July Update. When assessments are conducted, results will be available to the campus community and will further guide campus interventions.
  • The Office of Campus Life has invited an External Review of Fraternity & Sorority Life by a trained team of professional campus and fraternity and sorority leaders. The team is being assembled by the National Inter-fraternity Council’s Fraternity & Sorority Coalition Assessment Project in Indianapolis, IN. Purposes of the review are to:
    • Assess the state of AU’s FSL community – its strengths and challenges;
    • Assess how FSL is contributing to a positive social environment for AU students, where the dignity of every student is recognized and respected;
    • Recommend ways to improve the overall FSL experience at AU.

    • The assessment will focus on the following aspects of Fraternity & Sorority Life:

    • Developing Positive Interpersonal Relationships
    • Advancing Leadership Development
    • Strengthening Social IQ, Citizenship and Service Learning
    • Advancing Academic Interests/Assessing Graduation Rates of Members
    • Determining the Effectiveness of Campus Interactions and Support of the Fraternity and Sorority Community
    • Responding Effectively to Unrecognized Groups

The external reviewers will visit AU on September 16-17, 2014, and they will meet with a broad range of campus constituents. Data gathering and preparation for the visit will be carried out by a campus committee, and outcomes will be shared with the campus community no later than the end of the fall semester.

Campus Collaboration
In addition to the work described here, the Student Government has appointed a task force on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention. We have pledged to work collaboratively with the task force and give timely attention to its recommendations.

I want to thank the many students, faculty and staff who have offered constructive input and suggestions. There will be more opportunities for your input in the near future.