American University’s Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence holds their final meeting

Final recommendations are expected to be submitted to President Burwell within the next month

Content warning: This video contains mention of sexual assault. American University students walked out of class on Nov. 10 to protest the University’s response to sexual assault. Video produced by Jolie Abdo. Students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment can seek support through confidential resources such as University’s Center for Well-Being Programs and Psychological Services, the Student Health Center, the Kay Spiritual Life Center or the following hotlines: - Collegiate Assistance Program: 1-855-678-8679 - Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN) anonymous chat: - RAINN hotline: 1-800-656-4673 - DC Rape Crisis Center: 202-333-7273 Non-confidential resources include the University’s Title IX Office and AUPD.

The final meeting of American University’s Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence, hosted on April 26, focused on a recommendation that the University create a community advisory group.

The group was originally launched last November by University President Sylvia Burwell to review the University’s current approach to sexual harassment and violence on campus, according to the initial announcement.

The most recent meeting was hosted by Shannon Hader, the dean of the School of International Service, and Vicky Wilkins, the dean of the School of Public Affairs.

As outlined in the CWG recommendations draft, the proposed advisory group’s purpose would be to support the implementation of recommendations and evaluate the results of the implementation. It would be chaired by the vice president for student affairs and the vice president of inclusive excellence and include representatives from various groups across campus such as Student Government, the faculty senate, the athletics department and various student, faculty and staff affinity groups. 

According to Wilkins, co-chairs of the advisory group would report directly to President Burwell. 

CWG attendees discussed what groups they felt were missing from the proposed advisory group, such as graduate students, the Kay Spiritual Life Center and representatives from both social and professional Greek life. 

Adam Ropizar, president of the SIS Graduate Student Council, recommended that two additional rotating seats be added for undergraduate and graduate students not involved in other leadership roles on campus.

“To ensure… that student concerns are actually being heard from the top level,” Ropizar said. “[The two chairs are] needed because the issues are so different.”

The CWG also discussed steps that could be taken to make University services, such as the Office of Equity and Title IX, more accessible and useful to students. 

Linda Voris, an associate professor of literature, suggested the Title IX Office be included in the University's plans for the new Student Thriving Complex.

“There’s a message that we send students when these services are off campus and they have to go to them, rather than their being included here on campus and under the umbrella of wellness,” Voris said.

Currently, the Title IX Office is located on New Mexico Avenue, and all services such as incident reporting are done online, according to the Office’s website

Attendees also discussed possible options for those who couldn’t attend regular advisory group meetings to still participate in the conversation, such as the advisory group making meeting notes available online and having an easily accessible suggestion survey. 

Tensions began to run high toward the end of the meeting as students expressed their frustrations about not feeling validated or listened to by CWG leaders. 

“Part of that [trust building] needs to look like a lot of remedying harm that has been done by this group because students do not feel safe in this group,” Lillian Frame, a senior in SPA said. Frame is an organizer who was involved in multiple protests following an alleged sexual assault in Leonard Hall. 

Frame, along with other attendees, eventually left the room entirely, fed up with being “interrupted and belittled” by other CWG members. Students attending the group have reported being mistreated and harassed by faculty and staff members of the CWG in past meetings.

“The way that this group has treated a lot of students has been really disappointing and deplorable,” Frame said.

Wilkins disagreed, saying that they couldn’t have created the recommendations list without listening to student and faculty suggestions. 

“I will say that this notion that people haven’t been listened to and that ideas have not been taken into account… There has been good work done here and we’re not gonna undo it by saying that nothing has been done,” Wilkins said. “Don’t disrespect the students in this room that have contributed to these things… to try to do good things on campus.”

The full recommendations list will be submitted to President Burwell and other University leaders on behalf of the CWG. Within the next month, Burwell will provide a public response to the University community outlining the next steps for implementation. 

This article was edited by Abigail Turner, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Stella Guzik. 

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