Members of the Brown Community,
As you know, this fall the Brown campus has been focused on reducing the threat of sexual assault on our campus. Students come to Brown to learn within a supportive and caring community founded on mutual respect. Sexual assault—which can have long-lasting adverse impacts on victims and their families and friends—has no place within our community. I am writing to highlight what must be done to make progress on this issue, and to urge you to take part in our efforts to make Brown safe for all of our students.
The first step in reducing sexual assault is to recognize that sexual violence is a real and present threat at Brown, as it is across the country and the world. Anyone who doubts this need look no further than the events of this semester. Last month, two students reported that they may have been served a drink mixed with a date rape drug at an on-campus party. It has since been confirmed that one of those students tested positive for the date rape drug GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate). We are awaiting test results for the other student. One of these two students reported being sexually assaulted after being incapacitated by the drug. We are actively investigating these incidents, and will provide more information to the community, while protecting students’ confidentiality, as it becomes available. This behavior is abhorrent, and anyone with any information about what occurred should report it to Public Safety or Student Life immediately.
More generally, we have seen an increase in reporting of sexual assault this academic year. In several cases, the evidence was strong enough to warrant immediate removal of the alleged perpetrators from campus. Because most sexual assaults go unreported, it is a very positive sign that students at Brown are coming forward to report their experiences. All survivors on our campus should know that we strive to create a safe environment for them to make the best decisions about their individual healing, which may include confidential care at Brown or in the surrounding community, or in bringing charges at Brown or in the criminal justice system.
The second step in reducing sexual assault is to develop and implement the most effective policies, practices and prevention programs. This fall, we established a Sexual Assault Task Force that is assessing the best research on this topic, and gathering information through interviews and community forums on how our current policies, practices and programs can be improved. In December, the Task Force will bring forward preliminary recommendations, some of which can be acted upon immediately. Final recommendations will be issued in March. In the spring, we will conduct a campus climate survey that collects information on students’ experiences with sexual assault. This survey will be repeated annually so that we can track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of our policies over time.
Finally, reducing sexual assault requires a change in the culture and norms on our campus. Over the past year, as the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has attracted national attention, the role of culture in sexual assault has been a subject of debate. Some people–including writer Wendy McElroy, who will speak with Jessica Valenti at a Janus Forum event next week–have argued that sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predatory individuals whose behaviors are impervious to the culture and values of their communities. I disagree. Although evidence suggests that a relatively small number of individuals perpetrate sexual assault, extensive research shows that culture and values do matter. Societies that have strong norms against sexual assault have fewer assaults. Furthermore, people are more likely to come forward to report assaults in communities that understand the seriousness of assault and support survivors.
In order to provide the community with more research and facts about these important issues, students and administrators have worked together to sponsor a lecture by Brown University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, entitled The Research on Rape Culture. This presentation will take place at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, November 18th in Wilson 102 as an alternative to the Janus Forum (which will be held at the same time and date in Salomon 101). Whether you choose to attend Dr. Orchowski’s lecture, the Janus Forum event, or neither, I encourage you to become educated about research that documents the causes and consequences of sexual assault, and the role that community norms and values play in sexual assault.
As a community, we have the ability to establish norms and values that will diminish the chance that sexual assault will occur. This begins with the recognition that sexual assault is a serious problem for which we bear a collective responsibility. The vast majority of Brown students are not, and will never be, perpetrators of sexual assault. However, all students—as well as faculty, staff, parents and others—have opportunities to change our campus culture for the better, by speaking out, caring for friends, intervening as bystanders, and learning about prevention programs.
I encourage you to join in our work to ensure Brown achieves our greatest aspirations to be a caring and supportive community, whether it is attending a Sexual Assault Task Force Forum, participating in conversations that will be held next spring on how to make campus events and parties safer, or undertaking Bystander Intervention Training.
For more information on Brown’s resources related to sexual assault and other Title IX related concerns, please visit the following website. This site includes information on resources and support, as well as relevant policies and procedures for reporting incidents. The Sexual Assault Response Line at (401) 863-6000 provides confidential crisis support and information 24 hours a day.
Christina H. Paxson
Professor of Economics and Public Policy