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‘A safer environment’: Working group releases 28 recommendations, including campus-wide climate survey

By Anita Alem     3/17/15 4:50pm

Major Recommendations

  • Campus climate survey (aligned with federal regulations)
  • Student extension to Title IX and Clery Act programs, may be similar to RHAs
  • Risk-reduction education beginning with O-Week 2015 along with Project SAFE
  • Three-hour faculty training every two years for Title IX/sexual violence, sexual harassment, cultural competency
  • Montrose Center to provide LGBT education, off-campus resources in addition to HAWC
  • Clery act training and discussion between RUPD, Title IX, General Counsel and Dean of Undergraduates
  • SJP processes recorded, officers trauma-trained
  • Improve reputation of SJP and publicize Title IX personnel through student programming

Evaluation of SJP

  • SJP’s processes are trauma-informed and fair to accuser and accused
  • Students may view SJP as insensitive and intentionally intimidating
  • Students reported knowing peers who decided against reporting due to fear of losing control over handling of case
  • Essential for administration and students to partner to correct misinformation

After seven months of evaluation and discussion, the Working Group on University Response to Sexual Assault Initiatives has compiled its review into 28 recommendations. A survey created in conjunction with Stanford University and the University of Chicago will be administered to all undergraduates this semester to determine the prevalence of sexual misconduct at Rice.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson released the working group’s 15-page report and announced the renovated safe.rice.edu website in an email to the undergraduate student body on Tuesday.

“This was an incredible amount of work for this group to seek the input of every member of the community over a very extended period of time, and to do so under some pressure,” Hutchinson said. “They responded in Rice fashion to do well and above what was expected.”

Working Group Goals

Associate Vice Provost Matt Taylor, the chair of the working group, first convened a meeting in summer 2014 in light of the federal report “Not Alone” by the White House Task Force. The group outlined four areas of focus, including disciplinary policies, training of faculty, staff and students, student resources and web communication.

Representatives from Student Judicial Programs, Rice University Police Department, the Student Wellbeing Office and the Counseling Center were members of the working group. Former Lovett College president Meghan Davenport served as an undergraduate representative.

The recommendations of the group encompass many topics, according to Davenport.

“[There’s everything] from staff training to student advocacy to climate surveys,” Davenport said. “I think that when people read our recommendations, they will be almost guaranteed to learn something new. Our recommendations are detailed, thorough, and I think they reflect a deep commitment to creating a better Rice community, when it comes to these issues.”

Davenport said she believed the working group accomplished what it set out to do. She said she hopes the recommendations will help teach the Rice community about the available resources.

“The goal was to examine and improve our policies and practices, not just getting them in line with Title IX guidelines but going above and beyond them,” Davenport said. “Hopefully, when the recommendations are implemented, we will have a more educated community of staff, faculty, and students, more clearly defined and helpful resources, and an ongoing, informed conversation about sexual assault that will create a safer environment for survivors.”

Climate Survey

The federal government recommended universities complete a campus climate survey studying the prevalence of sexual misconduct before the end of 2015. Taylor and the working group referred to a government template, worked with peer institutions and studied a climate survey administered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create Rice’s five-minute survey. 

“One of the key motivations to collaborate with our peers is, if we can, to ask questions that are the same,” Taylor said. “In addition, we’d like to draw on more academic knowledge and expertise in order to create a survey that generates useful data.”

According to Taylor, he and Davenport, who gathered student input, met with Director of Sexual Violence Prevention Allison Vogt to discuss the suggestions from students.

“We’re asking what kinds of things happened without your consent and what might have led to a person assaulting you and about your connection to the person assaulting you,” Hutchinson said. 

For continuing undergraduate students, the survey will be released in conjunction with the Survey of All Students, although the responses will be completely confidential. Graduating seniors will take the survey in conjunction with the Senior Exit Survey, with similar provisions of confidentiality. An independent body will then analyze the aggregate data, which will also be released to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. 

“We are doing this [principally] because the working group recommended it,” Hutchinson said. “The recommendation turns out to be consistent with that of the Department of Education. This is a response to a community issue.”

Web Resources Updates

Hutchinson announced the updated safe.rice.edu website, which went live last Wednesday. Kate Hildebrandt, the Title IX navigator, and Kate Noonan, director of the Student Wellbeing Office, solicited student feedback for the content and format of the website. Student representatives from Rice Health Advisors, the Women’s Resource Center and the Student Association Wellbeing Committee all worked on programming or legislation in conjunction with the Office of Student Wellbeing. Hildebrandt, Noonan, Vogt and Hutchinson all visited residential colleges to discuss the sexual assault policy.

The new site succeeds in following the “two clicks or less” roadmap to resources directly addressing student inquiry, as mandated by federal guidelines. The site features drop-down menus, including tabs for survivors and students looking to support friends who have been through a sexual assault. 


The working group’s 28 recommendations also spanned beyond the sexual misconduct policy, survey and web resources to include training for faculty, staff and students, as well as disciplinary procedures with SJP.

Several faculty members have already undergone a three-hour training, which will be renewed every two years. The Montrose Center will now be partnering with the Houston Area Women’s Center and Rice to provide training and act as an off-campus resource for students seeking help. Project SAFE training during Orientation Week will now, in addition to bystander intervention training, include risk-reduction information on sexual and domestic violence, in accordance with the Department of Education’s updates to implementing the Clery Act.

There are also plans to create a new student arm for the office of Title IX support. Student input from the Student Association Wellbeing Committee led to this idea since there was no independent student-led body committed solely to sexual assault prevention on campus. 

“It could be helpful for the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Title IX to have students to help them connect with campus,” Taylor said. “It could be like RHAs, but it shouldn’t have to be.”

RUPD will work with the Title IX Coordinator, the Dean of Undergraduates and the General Counsel to discuss the Clery Act and sexual violence.

Taylor said the working group was impressed by SJP’s policies and procedures for handling cases of sexual assault. However, SJP made several changes to its policies as well, which were included in the new student Code of Conduct released in January. Students may now bring a support person into meetings with SJP in cases of sexual assault or sexual misconduct, although this individual may not act in the capacity of a lawyer. Additionally, SJP now records student meetings.

“[The support person] is there for advice or comfort in what might be a stressful period,” Hutchinson said. “In general, every substantive meeting of a student for any purpose with SJP will [also] have two people from SJP in the room at the same time, whether a person is coming in for an inquiry or a complaint. [SJP is] now recording all student judicial process meetings and, in general, every conversation that takes place.”

“Comprehensiveness and Sensitivity”

Taylor and Hutchinson agreed that the findings of the working group reinforce the measures Rice has already implemented.

“In reviewing this, all members of the working group were impressed by the comprehensiveness and the sensitivity of the processes and resources already in place,” Hutchinson said. “Although the recommendations of the working group are many, that is not a reflection that the working group thought we were broken, but rather that there was much strength that could be built upon with input from the community.”

Taylor said Rice has been ahead of peer institutions in several areas.

“We’ve either been following federal recommendations, or [the changes] were already in the works before the recommendations had even been published,” Taylor said.

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