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Spelman College

President's Letters to the Community

President Campbell's Campus Forum Update


November 17, 2015

Dear Members of the Spelman College Community,

This morning, members of the Spelman and Morehouse faculties, administrative leadership and I gathered with a standing-room only crowd of AUC students for a forum on a topic that we all consider to be of great urgency – our need to create a campus climate free of gender-based violence, free of discrimination based on sexual identity, and free of harassment, assault and rape.

The summit was the outcome of a meeting held last week by a group of Spelman student leaders, faculty and administrators to discuss growing frustration in our community about the climate of sexual respect and inconsistencies in AUC practices regarding Title IX.

Our Spelman values tell us that we are free-thinking Black women; a community of leaders, women who change the world.  Those values compel us to ask ourselves: “What is our responsibility to make our campus resonate with our core values at all times?” Stephane Dunn, a member of the Morehouse faculty, describes that responsibility in a recent article:

Self and community responsibility, actively challenging and reconstructing, and reorienting thinking and behavior takes real work ongoing all the time to prevent incidents rather than constant reaction to them.

Today, we ask what is the real work that we must undertake on each of our campuses to ensure we protect our members from gender-based violence?

Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University are a rare combination of three interlocking and dependent campuses. Given our missions, historic roles in the fight for justice, and current commitment to equality, our colleges should be models of mutual respect among all individuals and – without question – a model of mutual respect between Black men and Black women. We know that is not the case and that the real work is just beginning.

At Spelman, I started that work even before my official arrival on campus by establishing a Title IX office and hiring two staff members. Ms. Katrina Oliver comes to Spelman from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the University of Tennessee and is an expert regarding Title IX policies and practices. Dr. Terri Reed, secretary of the college, and to whom Ms. Oliver reports, is a former vice president for diversity at George Washington University and is also an expert in the evolving and changing landscape of Title IX and the impact on college campuses. Having a well-staffed, expert and centralized Title IX function will help us monitor our own environment for consistency among several divisions that are involved in the education and training of the community, investigation and adjudication of violations, and the care of survivors. Moving forward, we will continue to consider carefully how we staff and structure our Title IX office, including exploration of establishing a victim services presence.

This fall, I invited the new Title IX staff to conduct a thorough environmental scan including a comprehensive review of past violations of Title IX and current policies and practices; interviews with students, Title IX administrators at Spelman and at each of the AUC campuses; and discussions with key faculty, staff and administrators. The result is a list of recommendations and actions, several of which I proposed for discussion this morning with our student leaders.

Establish a standing Title IX committee. The committee would be comprised of faculty and staff whose research and/or practice has made them well-versed in the issues of sexual violence, including educational awareness, prevention, and the well-being of victim-survivors. One role of the committee would be the training of designated advisors and allies who would be available across campus to support students who experience sexual assault, gender-based discrimination, and/or who may be seeking safe space for guidance and support around matters specific to our LBGTQIA community.   

Enhance AUC Title IX collaboration. The goal, by the end of this academic year, would be to reach consensus among Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta in the handling of cases that involve two or more of the campuses. Simultaneously, Spelman must continue to invest in the well-being of our students through continued strengthening of our own programs and practices.

Improve education, communication and transparency as it relates to Title IX. AUC campuses collectively admit over 1,000 new students a year. Each campus has strong institutional values and each needs to find a way to assure clarity and precision in communication of our collective intolerance of sexual violence and harassment. Specifically:

  • Call attention to the language we use when communicating matters of sexual violence and harassment such that our practices and language do not re-victimize individuals who may have been traumatized by an event.
  • Education must begin early – with new student orientation and meaningful discussion of Title IX, healthy relationships, mutual respect and inclusiveness. The education must continue and be reinforced through curricular and co-curricular initiatives such as ADW (African Diaspora and The World), FYE (First Year Experience) and SYE (Second Year Experience) and in all student organization programming. And, we must create new opportunities to refresh the entire community about these values over the course of the academic year.
  • Ensure the reporting and adjudication processes are transparent and easily accessible to all members of the community.
  • Conduct a series of campus forums to review the policies, procedures and resources available and answer community questions and concerns regarding Title IX violations, reporting, investigations, adjudications, and the care and well-being of survivors of violence.
  • Share the 24-hour hot line number frequently and visibly. That number is 678-873-5884.
  • Ensure resources available at http://www.spelman.edu/title-ix are effective and promoted consistently.

We are a campus that celebrates and encourages a dynamic intellectual environment. We applaud the expression of diverse ideas and expressions of being a free thinking Black woman – we must do our best to continue to nurture the discourse and dialogue that result in action and change. The Spelman community is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the fight for equality, justice and in the real work ahead. As president, I stand in solidarity and express my commitment to moving this agenda forward in partnership with our students and in the spirit and practice of mutual respect that is the hallmark of our community.

Sincerely,

Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President