Taking action against sexual assault and violence

Photo by Eric Mansfield

While we maintain a strong commitment to the safety and security of all members of the Georgia Tech community, recent events on our campus, along with incidents on campuses throughout the nation, have shed a renewed light on a topic that requires our increased attention:  sexual assault and violence. It would be easy to assume that this happens only on other campuses, but the unfortunate truth is that Georgia Tech is not immune to it. The ongoing work of our Women’s Resource Center, Health Promotion, Dean of Students Office, the Counseling Center and others are points of pride, but we can and must do more to raise awareness and take the appropriate actions against those who commit such acts.

Each and every day of my five years as president of Georgia Tech, I am amazed by students who have a deep respect and commitment to the Institute. When it is necessary that changes be made in a particular area, our students utilize the skills they have learned and find positive and innovative ways to address and resolve the issues. An excellent example of this approach occurred this past week, as two of our students met with me and presented a White Paper calling attention to the issues of sexual assault and violence here at Georgia Tech and suggested several steps to improve the current climate.

In this White Paper, Emily Gooding, Maggie Burcham and Annie Hess outlined a series of recommendations, which along with those already initiated by the Institute have the potential to significantly impact the safety and climate on our campus here at Georgia Tech.

Last July, Dean of Students John Stein appointed a committee to review our Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. That group, which included students and representatives from units across our campus, recommended a number of changes to the policy, which along with changes required to bring our policy and procedures into federal compliance, included (a) the elimination of the option of having a hearing before a student panel in cases of sexual assault or violence, (b) the establishment of a special three-member appeal panel, trained in considering sexual misconduct cases and charged with reviewing all cases involving sexual assault or violence and (c) a recommended list of sanctions for various offenses up to and including expulsion for those who commit acts of sexual assault or violence.

I have endorsed those changes. They were approved by the Student Regulations Committee of the Faculty Assembly just this past Wednesday, and will now go to the full Faculty Assembly for final passage.

These policy revisions are significant by themselves and will have a positive impact, but recent events clearly indicate that we can and must do more in the areas of education, prevention and support. To continue to reinforce our efforts in this arena, I have reconstituted the policy review committee appointed by Dean Stein, as a presidential task force whose members have been asked to review the White Paper, benchmark the best practices in place nationally and submit a list of recommendations to me for implementation by August 1, 2014.

I often say that Georgia Tech is a special place and I truly believe it. While I am enormously proud of the people who are part of our campus community and how they comport themselves, I am sometimes disheartened and disappointed by the actions of a few. Sexual violence is never acceptable and will not be tolerated, we can and must do more, hence the need for the actions outlined above.

In almost all cases, our graduates will leave Georgia Tech with an unmatched education and the skills required to succeed and lead.  No one should have to leave with the emotional or physical scars of sexual assault or violence.  I along with the entire leadership team here at Georgia Tech am committed to doing everything possible to ensure that this does not happen, now or in the future.