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Dean Hutchinson response to Olivia Hansen's Op-Ed regarding student counseling services

By John Hutchinson     11/29/12 6:00pm

This is a response to Olivia Hansen's column. 


Let me begin by unequivocally stating that Rice University does not tolerate sexual assault or violent misconduct in any form and has proven policies and procedures to deal with such cases fairly, quickly and decisively. Student safety and well-being is our No. 1 priority.  We were therefore disappointed to read the Nov. 30 commentary by Olivia Hansen in the Rice Thresher, which contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

When allegations like this first appeared in an anonymous blog, we began an investigation of the facts and our policies and procedures to determine whether they had validity. Although we cannot release information from medical, mental health and other records in this case without Olivia's written consent, and in fact we have been respectful of her privacy, we will do our best within those constraints to address some of her allegations.

First, while we can all sympathize with Olivia's struggles to overcome the abusive relationship she describes, her opinion piece may create the misperception that sexual assault or relationship violence is not taken seriously at Rice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Students who have been the subject of this type of misconduct know that Rice acts promptly to investigate and respond, as was the case here. Students who have been found to have committed violent misconduct are removed from campus, again as was the case here, and may face criminal charges.

Second, I am concerned that Olivia's commentary may (unjustifiably) discourage those subjected to sexual assault or any violence from reporting it and getting help.  Any Rice community member who experiences such misconduct should report it to the Rice Police Department, Student Judicial Programs, and Title IX Coordinator Russell Barnes, college masters, resident associates or other Rice officials. Your complaint will be taken seriously and Rice will treat you with the dignity and respect that any crime victim deserves.  

Third, Rice students have access to health and counseling services that are among the best available in any higher education institution, and we are continually improving and expanding those resources. While not every mental health problem can be effectively addressed on our campus, this is unfortunately due to the difficult nature of some cases. Students with problems or concerns should make full use of those counseling resources.

Finally, would an entire team of teachers and professionals who have dedicated their lives to the education and well-being of students actually conspire to mistreat a young woman who was the victim of a sexual assault? Anyone reading that commentary should ask how and why this would happen and wonder what information is missing. The actual story is not as presented.

As I said at the beginning of this letter, there is no tolerance at Rice for sexual misconduct; people who are victims of sexual misconduct should ask for help; and when they do, we will take those complaints seriously and respond in ways that are thorough and compassionate.

My student affairs team, including the Rice Counseling Center, the Office of Student Success and Retention, Student Judicial Programs, and the college masters, are highly trained professionals, dedicated to the well-being of our students. They and I are continually working to improve our support services to our students and to do our very best to provide a healthy and wholesome environment for them.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson

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