Important Update: Margolis Healy Final Report on the College's Response to Sexual Misconduct

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

For some time many of us - students, faculty and staff - have been working on improving our sexual assault and harassment policies, practices, and procedures. We have come at this complex issue with different perspectives, ideas, and suggestions. But together we have a common vision: we want to be a culture in which assault and harassment are simply not tolerated. And when sexual violence does occur, we want to support survivors and ensure that our adjudication process is thoughtful, fair, and conducted according to this country's standards of due process. Swarthmore strives to be a place in which respect, responsibility, and accountability are woven not only into our policies and practices but also into the very fabric of our culture-as fundamental to our identity as academic rigor and commitment to the common good.

Last spring, I announced that the College would undertake a thorough review of our sexual assault and harassment policies, practices, and procedures. As part of the process to make our vision real, in early May I announced we would bring in an independent team of experts from Margolis Healy and Associates (MHA) to objectively evaluate the College's response to sexual assault and harassment. The MHA review was conducted against a backdrop of emerging national best practices, legislation, and regulations in this area. Our review has also included a self-reflective internal process led by a Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, chaired by Professor of Sociology Sarah Willie-LeBreton. The Task Force is reviewing our practices, policies, and culture from within-paying special attention to the nature, traditions, and values of Swarthmore.

Today I send to you a final report [pdf] prepared by MHA, which in its executive summary provides an overview of the recommendations they suggested in the first part of their report issued in July and those contained in the second part issued today. This overview also summarizes the many efforts we have undertaken since last spring. To strengthen our efforts, we hired a number of new staff members, who are quickly settling in and getting to work, and we have offered numerous new trainings for staff, faculty, and students. We created a new interim policy and are now revising it in light of your feedback. And we enhanced our prevention and educational programming, including the addition of new programs for incoming students. I need your help and your feedback as we continue to refine these new practices and policies.

The MHA report may be complete, but our work together on these issues continues as we integrate the recommendations of our external reviewers and, later this semester, receive the report from our internal task force. This spring and into the summer, Dean Liz Braun will be leading our efforts and focusing on the following:

  • Establishing a comprehensive, integrated prevention and education effort led by Associate Dean Lili Rodriguez, Worth Health Center Director Beth Kotarski, and Interim Title IX Coordinator Patricia Flaherty Fischette;
  • Evaluating how best to support students through residential life, including increasing prevention programming in residence halls;
  • Establishing a confidential peer-to-peer support group that complies with state training requirements and that students can practically undertake;
  • Finalizing our interim sexual assault and harassment policy for students and revising policies for faculty and staff;
  • Expanding our trainings to reach even more members of our community;
  • Expanding consent workshops;
  • Forging new partnerships with Haverford and Bryn Mawr to share best practices and possibly new approaches in our adjudication model;
  • Continuing to refine our adjudication process and options;
  • Publishing an annual report summarizing our judicial cases;
  • Continuing to gather relevant data about assault incidents, using new software to track cases more efficiently and analyze them for trends and new opportunities for prevention;
  • Continuing to improve our nonalcoholic social options and working with the SWATeam to support and monitor events at which alcohol is served.

College should be a time of tremendous growth intellectually and socially, a time for our students to explore new ideas and new ways of knowing, to develop relationships with new people and to learn to cultivate healthy communities. My job as president is to ensure that we are providing a space in which this can happen. Our deepest values - respect, accountability, shared responsibility - must be infused in our culture in a way that reinforces the idea that sexual assault and harassment have no place on our campus. I want our students to thrive.

At the same time, I want to make sure that both institutionally and personally we are sensitive, respectful, and compassionate to survivors. Each person who struggles with trauma does so differently, and we need to honor that struggle.  We want a culture where each individual is supported and each student can thrive in this academic environment.

The work we are doing to make our campus safer and to strengthen our culture of respect and accountability cannot occur without each and every one of you. I want specifically to thank the SMARTeam, ASAP, our RAs, student leaders, CAPS counselors, members of the dean's office, faculty mentors, and many other committed members of our student body, staff, and faculty, who are working so diligently to improve our culture in so many different ways.

There is hope, too, beyond our own campus. Increasingly - and in no small part because of student activism and public support on these issues - the national press is starting to discuss sexual violence on college campuses. Congress and federal agencies have started paying better attention, and just last week President Obama announced a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Change does not occur in a vacuum, and our willingness to confront these tough issues and change our behavior, policies, and culture is surely contributing to a broader societal change. Thank you.

Just as your input was critical to the work of Margolis Healy and the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, it is critical as we move forward in action. I welcome your feedback and look forward to continuing our work together.


Rebecca Chopp