Dean Gorman responds to sexual assault conversation
It is my privilege to be a member of the Rice community, and to serve as dean of undergraduates. Every day, I come to campus and work with people who care deeply about our community and are committed to providing an excellent experience to all our students.
The events of the last week have been deeply emotional for many of us. I feel this emotion when I talk to students and listen to their frustration about a situation and a system that can seem opaque. Our inability to have detailed public conversations about the specifics of a given case due to the privacy restrictions of federal law, and the limited knowledge of facts that anyone outside of the process can have, present unique challenges to me, my staff and many others who find themselves involved in a case that goes to Student Judicial Programs, including Title IX cases. That said, I would like to follow up on a few things regarding the events and discussions of this past week.
First, I would like to address the Title IX case discussed in the opinion piece in the Thresher last week. In the letter to the Rice community sent out on Friday, I apologized to the unnamed Rice graduate for our failure to keep her better informed throughout the process and for the decision to allow the student who was found in violation to graduate before the suspension was served. This was important to do for many reasons. My actions left a member of our community feeling like we did not care about her, and many others felt the same and wondered how this happened.
To be clear, it happened because of my decision – not SJP’s. The people who work in SJP are some of the most thoughtful, dedicated and caring people I have ever had the pleasure to work with and they strive to be fair and thorough for all students involved in their processes. Please remember that their office put a great deal of time and effort into investigating this case as well as others that come before them, and they ultimately issued a finding that the student was in violation with a suspension as the sanction. It was my decision and mine alone to alter the details of that sanction. And it was my fault that we did not communicate fully the reasoning and details of my decision to the reporting student. SJP did not do this. I did.
Last night, I attended the Student Association Town Hall and listened. Throughout the event, I felt sadness listening to a number of our students tell their stories. But, I also felt sadness for the good people I work with who have dedicated themselves to helping our community be safe and healthy. Those of us who work closely with SJP or have been involved in these cases know that they are thoughtful and highly trained investigators. As you might remember, last year I followed up on student concerns regarding SJP and made very significant changes to the office at the start of the school year. This included a leadership change, with the promotion of Emily Garza to director and Carrie Willard to associate director. In addition, I substantially expanded their budget for community outreach and education, and I formed the SJP Advisory Committee, which submitted their final report last spring. You all should know that prior to coming to Rice, Emily Garza worked for seven years at the Texas Advocacy Project as an attorney representing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in family law related cases. Both Emily Garza and Carrie Willard have received extensive and ongoing training in best practices on investigation techniques, trauma-informed interviewing and Rice’s legal obligations for what they must do with this type of challenging work. Their work is difficult, and we are fortunate to have them here, working for us.
This week I have had several meetings with your Student Association president, Grace Wickerson, as well as the college presidents and a variety of leaders around campus, including our new Title IX coordinator, Richard Baker. Together, in the time ahead, we will be engaged in a detailed and thoughtful review of how our policies are structured, and how pending changes from the Department of Education will shape how Rice handles sexual misconduct cases moving forward. I would encourage all of you participate in this process in a way that is considerate, deliberative and kind.
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As a Students Turning Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment liaison, the organization and its mission are incredibly important to me. I originally joined because, as a survivor myself, I wanted to be a part of facilitating safe spaces on campus through educating my peers and acting as a resource to provide support. STRIVE cares a lot about the student body and puts an extreme number of hours into raising awareness and making themselves accessible, as we have seen with the recent survivor panels, college-specific events throughout the year and their response to an anonymous 2019 Thresher opinion. However, we need to readjust how STRIVE is not only viewed and utilized by the student body but also how it is run. The place the organization holds now oversteps into the lives of liaisons and other students and goes beyond what they set out to do with their mission statement.