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Brandeis responds to sexual assault allegations

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Section: Front Page, News, Top Stories

August 22, 2014

This past April, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel addressed the Brandeis community in an email with an “Update on Sexual Assault Prevention.” In the email, Flagel highlighted the efforts the Brandeis administration had taken to combat sexual violence. These include hiring a sexual assault services and prevention coordinator, creating a conduct process specifically for sexual assault and harassment, initiating Speak About It sessions at orientation and providing bystander training for members of the Brandeis community. The email also included the “Brandeis Resource Guide for Sexual Assault Survivors,” a comprehensive guide of resources including confidential university, peer and community resources, ways to report an incident and ways to file a Community Standards Report (CSR).

Flagel’s email to the Brandeis community came a couple of weeks after the Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence (BSASV) hand-delivered copies of a letter to university President Fred Lawrence, Provost Steve Goldstein ’78 and Flagel himself. This letter expressed their concerns over what they considered to be a lack of resources for and attention to sexual violence on campus. BSASV was formed last semester in response to a student-led initiative called “SpeakOut!,” an anonymous online forum that allows those affected by sexual assault, violence and harassment to make their voices heard.

The 13-page letter highlighted 11 specific expansions and improvements to be made to the campus and collected more than 2,500 signatures on Change.org. The document stated that Brandeis has an obligation to “live up to the core values that make us who we are, and become a forerunner in the fight to end sexual violence in college campuses across the country.”

Flagel commended the BSASV group in his email.

“I am proud of their efforts and committed to working with students to implement real change for the culture on this campus,” Flagel wrote.

He also wrote that the entire administration applauds the student body, including individuals and student organizations such as STAR, Trisk, the Queer Resource Center, Brandeis 6-Talk and FMLA, for taking a stance.

“The Brandeis University administration commends these efforts, as they are truly reflective of our institution. We pledge to continue to support endeavors to combat sexual violence on this campus and to work closely with students dedicated to these issues,” Flagel wrote. “This includes a commitment to transparency.”

But six weeks after Flagel’s email was released, Brandeis was negatively portrayed in The Huffington Post. The article was regarding a six-month investigation that found a male student guilty of sexual assault, “only to punish him with a warning and sensitivity training,” according to the June 11 Huffington Post article.

“I read the charges and almost nothing was happening,” said Joe Babeu ’15, in the Huffington Post article. “Honestly, I thought it was a joke.”

Babeu reported a fellow male Brandeis student for sexual assault in January. The charges included “sexual assault, taking advantage of one’s incapacitation, sexual harassment, physical harm and invasion of personal privacy,” according to the document provided by the university to The Huffington Post. The accused student was found responsible for all charges, but Babeu stated the process “excluded him from knowing details about his case.”

In February, Babeu obtained a no-contact order against the accused student, since he did not know at that point whether or not any measures were already in place. Babeu said his attacker violated this no-contact order, and as a sanction, was given a warning.

Babeu believes the Special Examiner’s Process at Brandeis is “decently objective,” but that the staff needs stronger sexual assault training for their decision-making.

“Many of the staff at Brandeis lack the competence and training to execute the process properly in an unbiased and efficient manner,” Babeu said. “This is where a number of the problems in my case arose—unfair bias toward my attacker, insensitivity of administrators and overall incompetency.”

The Huffington Post article also reported that the activist group UltraViolet targeted Brandeis, as well as many other universities, in April. Brandeis was named a college with “a rape problem” through UltraViolet’s social media campaign.

In the calendar year of 2013, there were five undergraduate students on the Brandeis campus found responsible for “sexual misconduct.” Two were dismissed from the school, two were suspended and one was put on probation and required to complete a sexual assault prevention course.

Babeu believes the university’s sexual assault policies need more careful consideration and revision, specifically when grouping together particular behaviors.

“I feel that it is a huge oversight of the university code to use the blanket term ‘sexual misconduct’ to describe all forms of unwanted sexual contact without differentiation,” Babeu said.

Still, Flagel assures that the “safety, health and well being of our students is paramount,” according to an email sent out to the Brandeis community this Thursday. The email highlighted multiple health and wellness initiatives that will begin this semester, including many new resources to expand the school’s efforts in sexual assault services and prevention. In addition to the Resource Guide provided in April, there is another resource now available called “Sexual Assault on Campus: Supporting Our Students—A Step-by-Step Guide for Faculty and Staff.” A new website has also been created to increase awareness for sexual assault services and prevention. Lastly, as proposed in the document put forth by BSASV, the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) hired a new specialist in trauma and sexual violence, Kristin Huang, Ed.D. Huang, in addition to two other staff members at the PCC, all have expertise in serving survivors of sexual violence.

As students return to campus in the upcoming week, members of BSASV will reconvene and discuss their top priorities for the school year. Victoria Jonas ’15 says that putting together a staff for the Rape Crisis Center right now is one of their top priorities. The Office of Sexual Assault Services and Prevention specialist, Sheila McMahon, has been relocated to Usdan and will serve as an adviser for the Rape Crisis Center and its student staff. Jonas also reports the group is working closely with Dean Gendron, director of student rights and community standards, to revise Section 26.2 of the student handbook.

BSASV wants to encourage all students interested in joining or being involved with their efforts to contact them at Brandeis.sasv@gmail.com.

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