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Follow up to Recent Events

Dear members of the Emerson community,

I am writing to follow up on the message that I sent a few days ago regarding sexual misconduct and the public display of the names of members of our community. Since then I have received emails from students and concerned parents. The responses to the message have been varied, though all have been written with passion and conviction about both our sexual misconduct process and the complex ramifications of publicly displaying the names.

 I reiterate that the College and I take sexual misconduct very seriously. Emerson led the way five years ago when we overhauled our sexual misconduct process to be more caring and supportive of survivors by establishing what is now called the Healing and Advocacy Collective, establishing the Office of Title IX Equity & Access with a full-time Title IX Coordinator, and remediating, as best we could, our investigative process by using methods and investigators trained in trauma informed response. We encouraged then, as we do now, survivors to report instances of sexual misconduct, though we realize that incidents remain underreported here and elsewhere. We have much more work to do.

In my previous message, I acknowledged that “some students feel that the College has not adequately addressed some incidents of sexual misconduct and … the College understands that some members of the community feel that there are barriers to reporting incidents of sexual misconduct.” In other words, while we know that many students avail themselves of the process and find it helpful, some believe it does not meet their needs and others are not reporting incidents that occur. We should do our best to remove rather than create barriers so that incidents can be properly handled or adjudicated. What I didn’t write is that some students who have been found responsible for violations of the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy have received penalties that include suspension and permanent expulsion in recent years—rare events prior to the renewal of our commitment to respond forcefully to reported incidents.

My personal commitment to this issue is long-standing and unwavering, as a recent essay that I wrote makes clear what I believe:
While I support any and all efforts to improve or even reform our current responses to sexual assault, I am also mindful that the public posting of the names of students indiscriminately lumped together incidents whose specific facts, circumstances and situations varied, which could not be known to all who read the postings. This lumping together, without the benefit of specificity, painted those named with a very broad and potentially misleading brush.
Nevertheless, I now have a greater appreciation of the depth of the disappointment of those who have felt and continue to feel that the College’s sexual misconduct process—a private process to which I am ordinarily not a party—has not met students’ expectations. I want you to know that I welcome hearing from students directly. My office and email are always available; I spend much of my time engaging with students about their concerns and how the College might improve and learn from its shortcomings.

Towards that end, the College will take the following next steps:

  1. We will arrange opportunities for students to meet with me this week to discuss these issues in more detail so that the College might begin the process of identifying solutions or remedies collectively and cooperatively with students. Of course, I know that this is a very busy time of the year for students; but I hope students will be able to find time to meet with me.
  2. We will form a working group of students, faculty and senior administrators beginning in the fall, to examine our current practices and to develop specific steps for improvement and effectiveness.

Lee Pelton

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