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The LSA Student Government Sexual Misconduct Response and Prevention Task Force (SMRP) released a statement on Jan. 26 addressing the University of Michigan’s response to former U-M President Mark Schlissel’s inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.
Addressed to the LSA community, the statement requests three actions directed at the Board of Regents. Recently approved on Jan. 12, the SMRP task force was created to advocate for stronger policies to prevent future inappropriate relationships, restore trust in the University administration and reduce the sexual misconduct culture on campus.
“We have three requests for the Board of Regents,” the statement reads. “We ask that they take substantive action to prevent a lapse like this from ever occurring again, rebuild student and staff trust in the university, and dramatically reduce sexual misconduct on campus within two years.”
The statement also stresses a need for student input. It claims that former President Schlissel was awarded his role despite being ill-equipped to handle sexual misconduct at the University, in part due to the lack of student involvement.
“The 2013-2014 Presidential Search Advisory Committee did not incorporate student values and, as a result, the appointed replacement (former President Schlissel) was not equipped to address the demands and priorities of the university community,” the statement reads. “SMRP and LSA-SG urges the Board of Regents to seek out student input and accept the suggestions that students are willing to share.”
In an effort to rectify the lack of student input during the presidential search, the SMRP statement says the task force plans to “conduct a complete review of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.” In the statement, the SMRP task force also wrote they intend to assess the University’s protocol for maintaining “racial neutrality,” or colorblindness, during the hiring process.
The task force statement also addresses concerns about the unique challenges that international students from various cultural, ethnic and racial minorities face in accessiblity to sexual misconduct policies, an issue central to SMRP’s formation.
LSA junior Abigail Nighswonger, the statement’s primary author and vice chair of SMRP, said the task force aims to finish its review of U-M’s Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy — along with other indiviual departmental sexual misconduct policies — within the next couple semesters, though the timeline is subject to change. Nighswonger said the task force plans to publish a review highlighting their findings and detailing the scope of the investigation once it is completed.
“We’re trying to get started on (the review of the policy) as quickly as possible,” she said. “I’m thinking it’ll take a semester or two, but it depends on the process we use and the number of policies; (the policies are) scattered across the University in all these weird places. We’re going to do some digging.”
In addition to the review, SMRP recommends the Board of Regents instate an “independent monitor” to overlook U-M’s Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy as a form of accountability. Nighswonger says the idea comes from the ongoing class-action lawsuit against the University, led by LSA senior Josephine Graham.
“The independent monitor (was) pulled from Josephine Graham’s case actually,” Nighswonger said. “She and her legal team are suing the University for sexual misconduct, and they have a couple of demands, one of which is the independent monitor. I think that’s absolutely brilliant.”
In order to further increase accountability and rebuild community trust, the task force also recommends that the Board of Regents frequently update the public about its progress relating to the University’s sexual misconduct policies.
“We ask that the Board of Regents hold monthly meetings to update the public on the steps they’re taking to address sexual misconduct at the University of Michigan,” the statement reads. “Additionally, we would like the Board to consistently send out a summary of progress being made, available resources, and relevant policy. This collection of information should be distributed widely and frequently. Making this information readily available will help the University rebuild its relationship with students, staff, and faculty.”
Tyler Watt, LSA senior and LSA SG president, stressed the importance of these issues to SMRP.
“I want to particularly applaud its authors for their particular concern for making sure that both SMRP and the University respond more earnestly to sexual misconduct allegations made by people of color and other frequently victimized groups,” Watt said.
Nighswonger added that the regents’ response to Schlissel’s firing was inconsistent to their policy, given that he was offered a position as a tenured professor teaching in two departments next fall.
“The Board of Regents did well with Schlissel and his relationship with a subordinate in terms of their timely response in firing him,” Nighswonger said. “However, he’s still on faculty. It’s always an issue (where) they don’t respond at all and if they do, it’s lackluster.”
The Board of Regents has yet to reach out to SMRP. Nighswonger and LSA sophomore Lydia Kado, an LSA SG elected representative and chair of SMRP, plan to reach out to them directly this week.
“We would love the Board of Regents to reach out to us to discuss their action plan and about how we can help them make change at the University,” Nighswonger said.
LSA senior Caroline Slack, chair of the Committee Advocating for Traditional, Non-Traditional and International Students and vice chair of LSA Annual Scholarship Task Force, told The Daily over email that one of the signers of SMRP’s statement. She said that the action plan outlined in the statement for the Board will be key in addressing sexual misconduct at the University.
“In order for our community to reduce the prevalence of behavior like this, the University administration must consider the requests we’ve outlined in the statement as top-priority,” Slack wrote. “The creation of a 2-year action plan to dramatically reduce the frequency of sexual misconduct on campus is a key way the administration can address this ongoing problem.”
Slack also expressed hope that the administration will begin to address the issue of sexual misconduct on campus with input from SMRP.
“I remain hopeful that the University of Michigan acknowledges the ongoing problem and understands their role in fixing it, but I am cognizant of the layers of history which refute this,” Slack wrote. “SMRP was created for the purpose of supporting survivors and instilling more hope for students and university members to feel like their campus is a safer place, and I am hopeful we can work with the administration to accomplish the goals we outlined in the Schlissel statement.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sarah Williams can be reached at email@example.com.