Schlissel highlights sexual assault in lecture on ethics

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 7:12pm

At Ford Auditorium on Wednesday, University President Mark Schlissel discusses University actions and policies on sexual assault and outlines plans to decrease overall incidences.

At Ford Auditorium on Wednesday, University President Mark Schlissel discusses University actions and policies on sexual assault and outlines plans to decrease overall incidences. Buy this photo
David Song/ Daily

 

University President Mark Schlissel delivered the 20th Annual Raymond W. Waggoner Lectureship on Ethics and Values in Medicine on Thursday. The topic he chose to discuss: sexual misconduct.

An audience of medical professionals and a handful of students crowded the University Hospital’s Ford Auditorium for the lecture, named for the late Raymond Waggoner, professor emeritus and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry..

Schlissel’s lecture, titled “Making U-M Safer for Students: Confronting the Challenge of Sexual Misconduct,” mainly focused on the obstacles facing the investigation of sexual assault on campus.

“Although there are ethics in all aspects of science, I’ve decided to speak about a topic that I’ve been dealing with a lot as a University president,” he said. “It does to speak to our ethics and our system of values, but it has to do with how to create campus environment that is ideal for learning.”

During the address, Schlissel pointed out the importance of students feeling safe in their learning environment.

“If you feel threatened by sexual misconduct, you’re not going to be able to learn,” he said. “We won't have an adequate learning environment for our children.”

Schlissel spent a large portion of the talk relaying the key points of the University’s process for investigating sexual assault and describing how the process creates challenges for all parties involved. The University’s approach is defined as a student disciplinary process instead of a criminal one, and in 2011, it was changed from complaint-driven to investigation-driven, meaning the University must investigate a known episode of sexual misconduct.

In addition, Schlissel noted the standard of proof for University-based investigations is based on a “preponderance of evidence.”

“If it is more likely than not, then the person is found guilty," Schlissel said. “If a ruling is 51 to 49, the person is found guilty. You only need a slight degree of certainty to adjudicate.”

Phillip Margolis, professor emeritus of psychiatry, introduced Schlissel, and noted the President's how his background in medicine lends a unique perspective on the subject of sexual assault. Schlissel holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemical sciences from Princeton University, and both a medical degree and a doctorate in physiological chemistry from Johns Hopkins University.

“We need to learn how to control, adjudicate and prevent aspects of sexual misconduct,” Margolis said. “You can’t escape this discussion in modern society.”

Throughout the talk, Schlissel repeatedly referenced two recent campus-wide surveys: one administered by the University and another national survey conducted by the Association of American Universities. The University’s survey revealed 11.4 percent of students and 22.5 percent of undergraduate females at the University reported having experienced some sort of nonconsensual sexual behavior at the University.

Women were reported to be eight times more likely to be sexually assaulted. Undergraduate students three times more likely, lesbian, gay or bisexual students two and a half times, Greek students two and a half times, and underrepresented minorities two times more likely to be sexually assaulted then the general population. Out of the students who responded 'yes' to an incident of sexual misconduct, 46 percent told another person. However, only 3.6 percent told an official University resource.

LSA freshman Kyla Klein had a mixed response to the lecture overall, saying she felt Schlissel relied too heavily on statistics.

“I enjoyed learning about the statistics, but I didn’t really see anything to go forward from,” she said. “I think we have the bodies to deal with these issues, but we just need more support and resources in those bodies.”

Some of the challenges Schlissel pointed out included the stigma associated with coming forward and revealing one’s sexual history, the lack of direct witnesses and the prevalence of alcohol and binge drinking.

The talk touched on the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and its history of sexual misconduct prevention.

“This isn’t a Michigan problem, but a university-aged student problem,” he said. “The University has really been on the leading edge of concern for students over sexual assault.”

At the end of his lecture, Schlissel outlined how, going forward, the University needs to improve the investigation, adjudication and support processes for sexual assault. Specifically, he said he wanted to increase the number of students coming forward, as well as support for survivors on campus. The University is currently garnering input to inform a revision of the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.

“All this is happening in a culture that I think is very different from the one most of us grew up in,” he said. “What I am very proud of is the University, with its eyes wide open, has taken a very honest look at itself, and it’s identified its problems within itself.”