Letter: In response to ASMSU president's letter on MSU sexual assault policy
By Jessica Norris, MSU's Title IX Coordinator
I was surprised to read Mr. Lorenzo Santavicca’s letter to the editor on Jan. 24 regarding the revisions of MSU’s sexual assault policy and adjudication procedures to learn ASMSU believes MSU’s efforts to “prevent and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault” have not served the campus community and that ASMSU believes MSU has not improved in these areas. I am disappointed to learn about these concerns through a letter in The State News given my ongoing communications with ASMSU about the policy and procedures and their active role in our annual review and revisions.
While there is more work to be done, Mr. Santavicca’s letter ignores the progress MSU has made and paints an inaccurate picture, which could have a chilling effect on reporting and holding perpetrators accountable.
MSU has made broad organizational and procedural changes to improve MSU’s response to reported incidents, including the creation of the Office of Institutional Equity, currently staffed with eight full-time investigators. As evidenced in MSU’s first-of-its-kind 2015-16 annual report, these changes yielded dramatic improvements. Significant accomplishments include the increased speed of the investigation and student conduct processes, increased participation in training programs, increased engagement of faculty and staff in educational programs and the addition of staffing to support prevention and advocacy efforts. Also of note is the increase in reports, which we believe is reflective of increased efforts to raise awareness.
I share Mr. Santavicca’s dismay in reading stories about cases involving the MSU community in the media; however, given the complexities of the investigation and adjudication process and the sensitivity of the cases, it is inevitable that we will continue to see such stories. As evidenced by our annual report, MSU values transparency and provides information within the bounds of our confidentiality obligations and federal privacy laws, which unfortunately means MSU is unable to comment about specific cases, even when we believe there is additional information or perspective that we could offer.
We will continue to monitor our progress and adjust our policy and procedures as necessary. Work to develop new and engaging prevention and education programs is ongoing as we continue to build a culture that upholds our Spartan values. In closing, I echo Mr. Santavicca’s encouragement to continue dialogue on this important topic and for students to play an active role in fostering a community of caring and respect. I encourage students and employees to participate in the annual open forum being hosted by the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee on March 22 at 7 p.m. in the Ballroom at the Union. This event provides an opportunity to engage in small and large group discussions about the campus climate, which will inform recommendations and plans for advancing our response and prevention efforts.