March 10, 2016
TO: Campus Community
FROM: Gail Short Hanson, Vice President of Campus Life
SUBJECT: Response to Media Reports of a Sexual Assault of an AU Student
This week, an AU student came forward in the media to share her personal experience with filing a sexual assault complaint through Student Conduct. Press articles reported her concerns to include: that the process was not timely, that she was not treated fairly and sensitively, that the sanctions imposed on the perpetrator were not sufficiently severe, and that provisions for preserving the confidentiality of student conduct proceedings effectively attempted to silence her.
We appreciate the extended AU community's concern about this report and your willingness to consider American University's response. I will attempt to respond as openly as possible, within the constraints imposed by federal law.
We share a common goal of a university climate that is safe, respectful and responsive to students who experience harm. The definitions of sexual misconduct address a range of prohibited acts, from unwelcome touching to rape. More information about the various definitions of sexual misconduct can be found in AU's Student Conduct Code, Section V. Definitions (page 5) and the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy, Section III. Definitions of Prohibited Conduct (page 2). None of this behavior is tolerated in our community.
The sanctions imposed on those found responsible in all Student Conduct cases are applied with proportionality based on the nature of the violation, and fairness. The sanctions can range from participation in education programs and probation to suspension or dismissal from the university, commensurate with the seriousness of the violation. In cases involving sexual misconduct, AU issues sanction(s) based on these standards.
AU's Student Conduct process does have an Honesty and Confidentiality Policy. All hearing participants (students, hearing officers, witnesses, and administrators) sign a form acknowledging their agreement to provide truthful information and to preserve the confidentiality of the hearing process. This policy is intended to safeguard the integrity and fairness of the proceeding. It applies in all misconduct cases. The policy does not prevent victims of sexual assault from discussing their allegations with others, including the final outcomes of the related disciplinary proceeding. To ensure clarity, we will reevaluate the policy.
American University has not been notified of a new Title IX complaint from the Department of Education - Office for Civil Rights (OCR). If we do receive a complaint, we will cooperate and work with OCR to address any questions it may have. We welcome the opportunity to learn if there is more that we can do to augment the significant initiatives we have undertaken to create a climate that is safe, responsive and compliant with the law.
AU does not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct. The University is committed to stopping discriminatory behavior, preventing its recurrence and remedying its effects through education, sanctioning perpetrators, and supporting survivors. We investigate complaints promptly and thoroughly, and we have a full time Title IX Program Officer to ensure we can meet this standard. Reports may be made to both confidential and non-confidential resources. If you have questions or concerns, you may contact the university's Title IX Program Officer at TitleIX@american.edu.
Students, faculty, and staff have contributed substantively to the progress AU has made in addressing sexual misconduct. Our campus community will continue to work together to enhance the university's efforts and measures of success in this important work.