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Remarks at “Confronting Sexual Assault on Campus” Conference

Let me publicly express my gratitude to Linda Dudman, Sara Gleisile, Catherine Cerulli, Morgan Levy, Harriette Royer, Melissa Kelley, Kirsten Buscetto, and Taryn Rossi for organizing this Conference and also express my gratitude to the many sponsors and supporters of today’s conference.

I am gratified that this Conference addresses an area of fundamental importance to our University. The Centers for Disease Control 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reported that

Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration…. Many survivors of these forms of violence can experience physical injury, mental health consequences, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and suicide attempts, and other health consequences such as gastrointestinal disorders, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and gynecological or pregnancy complications.  These consequences can lead to hospitalization, disability or death.

The prevalence of crimes involving sexual assault prompted the United States Department of Education in 2011 to issue a letter explaining that the requirements of Title IX cover sexual violence:  “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”

One reads with horror stories about cases of rape in which unconscious and unknowing victims are exploited.   The trauma that rape victims feel can affect their lives for decades in ways that can be emotionally devastating not only to the victim but to those who love her or him.

At our University, we work hard to balance our commitment to  provide a safe campus, one as free as is reasonably possible from a hostile work environment and discrimination and harassment, with our commitment to academic freedom.   Academic freedom is a core value of our university and vital to provide assurance that one can hold unpopular or provocative views in safety. This is not always an easy balance, but it is a balance vital to uphold in a University that both values respect for all of our students, faculty, staff and visitors and intellectual freedom.

Statements, even if offensive to many, will violate our standards only if they are reasonably likely to make an individual or group objectively feel demeaned and they are “so severe, persistent, or pervasive as to disrupt the living, learning, and/or working environment of the individual or group.” Statements, for example, that solely are made on a private blog, without use of University resources, without purporting to speak for the University, and not in a manner directed to our students or groups of our University community, under existing First Amendment judicial decisions and University policies developed coordinate with applicable law, in all likelihood do not violate these standards.

One person’s free speech, however,  does not diminish anyone else’s freedom of speech. Each individual in our community retains the right to express disagreement with statements he or she feels are reprehensible. Our commitment to academic freedom is to protect the rights of all to speak.

As a former Law School Dean who supported domestic violence clinics at two different law schools, I have been exposed first hand to the horror of sexual violence.  While I respect the right of all in our community to exercise academic freedom, I cannot overstate my hope that our focus will be on preventing future instances of these types of crimes. No one who has known an individual who has suffered rape or sexual assault can ever view such crimes as hypothetical questions. These are crimes: Cruel, wanton, vicious, and vile.   I join those in our community who wish to take all appropriate steps to prevent sexual assault.