President Ronald Crutcher announced a list of initiatives reforming Richmond's approach to sexual assault in an email to the university community on Friday.
Changes include the creation of a Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, the separation of Title IX processes from the coordinate college system and the increase of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) resources for all students, especially survivors of sexual assault.
Some students were surprised by the magnitude of Crutcher's plans, though others said there was still room for improvement.
"I think it's a great start," said Whitney Ralston, a junior who publicly criticized the university's handling of her Title IX case in September. She listed changes such as coed freshman housing and audits for past Title IX cases she wished Crutcher would have included.
Crutcher promised to address the community by Fall Break in early September, and restated his intention in a meeting last week with Spiders Against Sexual Assault (SASA), an unofficial organization composed of students and alumni.
Rennie Harrison, a junior and leader within SASA, was disappointed Crutcher did not address gendered spaces within the coordinate college system, but appreciated that he seriously considered many of her group's proposals.
"I think that this is indicative of how powerful student voices can be, and I think a lot of this is a direct result of student action," Harrison said.
The push for a Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response began in 2015 when two Westhampton College students created a petition calling for robust, centralized sexual assault resources. The petition resurged after Ralston and Cecilia Carreras criticized how the university handled their Title IX cases.
To create the center, the university will hire at least two people to fill new or currently unfilled positions: an independent, confidential survivor advocate, and a permanent, full-time replacement for Beth Curry, who worked on prevention and education activities.
The university will also relieve deans of Westhampton and Richmond colleges of their Title IX duties, and assign cases to a new Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Students separate from the coordinate college system. Investigators, conduct officers and hearing officers of Title IX cases will also be independent, and hearings will be held separate from the colleges, the email states.
Melissa Dart, an active alumna in SASA, applauded Richmond for shifting Title IX duties away from the deans, but "that doesn't mean Dean Fabian and Dean Fankhauser aren't responsible for what they did in previous cases," she said, referring to the conflict of interest she saw in Deputy Title IX Coordinators Dan Fabian and Kerry Fankhauser's marriage. Dart agreed with Ralston that the university should audit previous Title IX cases.
As part of the plan, access to mental health services and the dean's office will be expanded through weekend and evening CAPS appointments, a CAPS counselor for survivors, a 24/7 hotline for survivors and a way to reach on-call deans' office staff after hours. Students will receive new ID cards with the two phone numbers by the start of spring semester.
In addition to sexual-assault education at freshman orientation, students will receive additional training in their sophomore year starting in January. This training, as well as all programming related to sexual assault, will be reviewed by the new President's Advisory Committee for Sexual Assault, for which people can nominate members of the university community.
The most immediate programming available is a series of Title IX trainings for faculty, staff and students. The student trainings will occur on Oct. 13 and Nov. 15.
"Some of us still really want to just hear that the school is sorry and that they know they wronged us," Ralston said. "I'm just glad our sacrifice is paving the way for a more effective system for future Spiders."
To read Crutcher's full email, click here.
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