Letter to the Editor: Bob Williams

To the Editor,

Like many Lawrentians, I have been distressed by recent events on campus, and all the more distressed that I have contributed to the suffering of sexual assault survivors. I experienced and witnessed sexual assault as a young teen, and I abhor any form of sexual violence. I am also outraged by gender discrimination and insist that my daughters deserve the same opportunities as anyone’s sons. And in my volunteer work as a comprehensive sex education teacher, I strive to help youth develop positive sexual identities and healthy relationships.

When I assumed the duties of Title IX coordinator at the start of the year, I was concerned that students might not feel comfortable talking with a male coordinator about their concerns, so I recommended that the university establish confidential sexual assault advocates—SHARE Advocates. When students did meet with me, I handled conversations with little skill and sensitivity, owing to my inexperience and lack of training as a counselor. I found it especially hard to deliver news that a student did not want to hear: that a matter does not fall under Title IX or that I lack the authority to grant what they want. My offer to help them get support surely sounded hollow, even hurtful. For that, I am truly sorry.

I have also done a poor job helping students understand the duties of the Title IX Coordinator. The coordinator does not decide who is in violation or who stays, goes or is allowed to return. Those matters are decided by university authorities who oversee students, faculty and staff. The coordinator refers complaints, ensures procedures are followed and remains impartial to avoid gender bias. University authorities judge the cases according to the policy and facts established by the external investigator.

Because sexual assault is underreported and usually not witnessed, the complaints and facts that can be established fall short of stories that circulate in our community. In looking over files from the last several years, I found no cases where findings or sanctions did not conform to the actual complaints, the policy in effect and the facts that could be established. Because cases cannot be discussed, the community will never know how much space exists between what “everybody knows” and what formed the basis for an official decision. It is clear we need to create a campus climate where more people feel comfortable coming forward to seek help or to complain about misconduct, so we can close that gap.

To move us forward, the students, faculty and staff of SHARE, which includes the leaders of SAASHA and LUCC, have prepared a draft sexual misconduct policy that focuses more on support for survivors and states unequivocally that anyone who engages in forcible sexual intercourse will be expelled or terminated. We are also refining the selection and training of SHARE advocates and adding education for incoming students during the crucial first term on campus, among other initiatives. Finally, I have recommended to the president and provost that they reassign Title IX responsibility to a permanent staff position with more time to focus on these efforts. Whatever role I play next year, I will continue the effort to free our campus from gender discrimination and sexual violence.

—Bob Williams, Title IX Coordinator