Sexual assault on campus dominated the conversation Wednesday at University President Mark Schlissel’s final fireside chat of the year.

During the chat, which allows randomly selected students the opportunity to ask any questions of their choosing, Schlissel said the University will likely unveil modifications to the University’s sexual misconduct policy in the fall. He said these changes could potentially focus on ensuring students are well-represented throughout the disciplinary process and that they stay on top of their school work during the process.

“One thing, in particular, we’re concerned about is there are issues of representation during the process, and after the process, as well, helping students to get caught up … to provide the interface for the academic side of the house to the greatest extent possible allows you to continue the setting of a very difficult period of time,” he said.

E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, also attended the chat. Harper outlined several steps the University was taking to improve the University’s existing policies.

She listed increased outreach to student groups, adding staff to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and analyzing results from the student survey on sexual misconduct that was distributed this semester.

“All of those efforts that, in different ways, shine a spotlight on this issue are really, really important,” Harper said. “So the more creative and diverse we can be with our programs means we will pick up different students in different areas to help understand and begin to change the climate. And that’s why I think culture shift is so important.”

Though students raised questions related to sexual assault during the chat, Schlissel set the conversation by opening the forum with a video to tie with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The clip featured University administrators discussing their commitment to ending sexual misconduct.

Schlissel said University administrators dedicate a significant proportion of their time together working to create a safer campus.

“…Sexual assault, in particular, is a topic of discussion almost every time we meet,” he said. “It’s not backburner, it’s a front burner. I think it’s going to take a consistent effort that’s a collaboration between the University leadership, the faculty, the staff, and then, all the members of our community need to figure out together how to make this place the safest place to go to school that there is.”

An LSA junior, who asked to remain anonymous for this article, identified herself as a survivor of sexual assault. During the chat, she described her experience with the University’s reporting process. She told Schlissel she first reported the assault to the University last July and received her first decision that September. Because she did not agree with the initial decision, she was given 10 days to file an appeal. The results of her appeal were not released until just before the fall semester’s final examinations.

“I do not feel at all that the University supported me throughout the process because it was a very trying, very horrible time in my life and I feel like, first off, that the University could improve its process is by shortening the time between the report and the decision,” she said. “And also when we turn in the appeal, we have 10 days to write that appeal and then we don’t get a decision for a month and a half, it’s extremely unfair.”

After hearing the account, Harper apologized for the policy’s faults and said the University is working to make the reporting process more efficient.

“One of the things we are changing is the timeline, holding ourselves to that standard much, much tighter because it’s too hard,” Harper said. “And also switching it so that you don’t go all the way through the process and then appeal, but you can appeal right away. You are absolutely right about the timeline and we are going to fix that.”

Several members of SAPAC attended the chat, including members of their Men’s Activism Program.

Schlissel also discussed engaging student-athletes in sexual assault awareness, and said he talked about the issue during a recent meeting with LSA junior Cooper Charlton, the former president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Central Student Government president-elect. Charlton said there are two problems with the existing sexual assault education programs for athletes — the programs are lengthy and student-athletes feel stigmatized.

“I think you need to reach a student leader on each of those teams,” Schlissel said. “Then they become your champions and then it becomes cultural.”

LSA senior Ashley Barnes, a member of SAPAC, said sexual assault education needs to become more of a priority to the University. She said many administrators don’t seem to have educated themselves on the topic.

“My issue is it’s not that it’s only at the student level at this point, it’s also at the administrative level,” Barnes told Schlissel at the chat.

Schlissel acknowledged that there is still room for educating University administrators.

“Five years ago I didn’t understand this issue at all,” Schlissel said. “I didn’t understand why it wasn’t the police and courts’ problem until I started talking to people that had experiences, so I think there’s a huge amount of learning that has to go on at all different levels, and I do think I should be responsible for helping train the senior staff to understand these issues.”

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