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Letter regarding MIT's progress in minimizing sexual assault on campus

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The following email was sent April 17 to the MIT community by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.

Dear members of the MIT Community,

Last fall, when President Reif and I shared the results of a student survey about unwanted sexual behavior on our campus, we announced a range of actions to address the problems the survey revealed.

Today, I write to ask for your input on one of those actions -- recommended changes to the processes of our Committee on Discipline (COD) -- and to give you an update on our progress overall, as we work to encourage a positive campus culture of sexual respect.

In our broad effort to enhance the way MIT addresses sexual assault and misconduct, I asked Professor Munther Dahleh, former COD chair, to lead a task force that would examine the COD's practices and procedures, and identify any necessary changes, with the goal of ensuring that our process for pursuing a complaint of sexual misconduct is streamlined, approachable, fair, prompt and consistent.

The task force -- composed of students, staff, faculty and representatives of the COD -- carefully reviewed the COD's procedures, the results of the student survey, the relevant legal framework, guidelines from the Office of Civil Rights, processes at peer institutions and MIT's existing policies, and has now recommended improvements to the way the COD handles student sexual misconduct cases.

I believe these recommendations will enhance the COD's ability to handle these cases effectively and ensure a fair process for all students involved by:

Assigning sexual misconduct cases to a subset of COD members who have received extensive specialized training;
Increasing the responsibility of professional in-house Title IX investigators in investigating allegations and determining responsibility;
Streamlining the process, to allow for faster resolution with no loss of deliberation;
Ceasing to have student COD members serve on sexual misconduct panels (because students on the task force told us that having their peers hear such cases presented a significant barrier to coming forward with a complaint); and
Providing COD members with guidelines to ensure consistency in what sanctions students may face after having been found responsible for sexual misconduct.

Seeking Your Feedback
These recommendations will reshape a process with important consequences for individual students and COD members, and for MIT as a whole, so as we move forward, it's essential to have the confidence of the community.

In that spirit, I invite you to review the task force summary and then:

Add your voice to the conversation by attending a town hall meeting where Professor Dahleh will present the task force recommendations and take your questions: May 11, 5-6:30 in 10-250.
You may also submit comments via email ( by May 18.

Next Steps
The task force will review this community input and present me with final recommendations, we hope by the end of this term. We aim to have new processes in place by September.

Please join me in thanking Professor Dahleh and all the members of the task force (listed at the end of this letter), for charting our path to a disciplinary process around sexual assault and misconduct that I believe will be a model of clarity and fairness.

These COD improvements will make a difference. But the disciplinary process touches only a tiny fraction of students. To achieve the community we want, we also need to focus on those elements that have relevance for everyone: from education and intervention, to personal and institutional support for those who experience unwanted sexual behavior.

Since announcing the campus survey results last fall, we have -- with tremendous insight and practical help from many individual students and student groups -- made real progress towards the kind of community we all desire:

  • We have greatly increased the visibility of sexual assault as a campus issue, encouraged students to discuss it and given them venues to do so, from the conference we sponsored in February to the many film screenings, plays and other April events of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
  • We are developing an educational campaign to help correct misconceptions students may hold about sexual assault and consent, and we have improved the training we provide for students on bystander intervention, campus resources and reporting options. We have increased the number of students who are educated on these subjects, and greatly increased the number of people, especially men, who feel responsible to help prevent sexual assault and misconduct.
  • We have targeted education for groups, such as graduate students, that might not be getting enough information about campus resources, and we launched trainings tailored for undergraduate students beyond the freshman year. We have also identified and will reach out to groups that need a special focus, from the LGBTQ community to the FSILGs. And we have enhanced "party-safe" training in our dorms and FSILGs to include a section on preventing sexual assault.
  • We have increased support for students who have experienced sexual assault, adding four staff members in Violence Prevention and Response and creating a new Title IX Office with two new staff. We have created a Sexual Assault Response Team to coordinate the efforts of the Division of Student Life, MIT Medical, MIT Police and the Title IX Office. And in what we believe is a positive sign, we have seen an increase in students who have come forward to report their experiences with unwanted sexual behavior.
  • We also continue to learn from the survey responses, and we are sharing these lessons with groups that ask for information specific to them.
  • Our Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Task Force has released a report that provides a strategic roadmap, detailed action steps and a plan for implementing further improvements. (With gratitude, I list the task force members at the end of this letter.)
  • I have also asked a new committee to analyze the Institute's polices and procedures around sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence and stalking, to determine whether we can make them even more effective, and I expect a report on this by next fall.

There is much to be proud of -- and still a lot to do. We can and will continue to improve our procedures and enhance administrative support. But we also need to shift our culture -- and that will take everyone.

I have learned a tremendous amount in this year, thanks to the direct, thoughtful, candid insights of hundreds of people across MIT. I remain eager for your perspective on how to make our community safer and more caring, for everyone who lives at, works at, or visits MIT.


Cynthia Barnhart

Members of the Task Force on COD Processes for Sexual Assault

Munther Dahleh, Chair; Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; EECS
Alex Byrne, Linguistics and Philosophy
Suzanne Flynn, Linguistics and Philosophy
Robert Redwine, Physics

Don Camelio, Office of Community Development and Substance Abuse
Mark DiVincenzo, Office of the General Counsel
Leah Flynn Gallant, Student Activities Office
Kevin Kraft, Office of Student Citizenship
Kate McCarthy, MIT Medical -- Violence Prevention and Response
Judith McGuire Robinson, Office of the Dean for Student Life
Sarah Rankin, Title IX Office
Blanche Staton, Office of the Dean for Graduate Education
Jaren Wilcoxson, Office of the General Counsel

Yasmin Inam '15
Morgan Moroi '16
Michelle Tomasik, G

Members of Education and Prevention Task Force: Sexual Misconduct, Intimate Partner Violence, and Stalking ("Gender-Based Violence")

Faculty & Staff
Kate McCarthy, Co-Chair; Program Director, Violence Prevention and Response, MIT Medical
Sarah Rankin, Co-Chair; Institute Title IX Coordinator, Office of the Provost
Kelley Adams, Program Manager, Violence Prevention & Response
Nina Davis-Millis, Random Hall Housemaster
Chacha Durazo '14, Title IX Office Assistant
Leah Flynn Gallant, Assistant Dean/Director for Student Leadership and Engagement
Josh Gonzalez, Area Director, Simmons Hall
Steven Hall, Professor and Associate Housemaster
Raquel Irons, Human Resources Officer
Jason McKnight, Assistant Dean, ODGE
Jacob Oppenheimer, Assistant Director, FSILG
David Randall, Associate Dean, Student Support Services
Judy Robinson, Senior Associate Dean for Student Life
Edward Schiappa, Professor, Head of Comparative Media Studies/Writing
Julie Shah, Professor and Associate Housemaster
Julie Soriero, Dept. Head Athletics/ Associate Professor

Charlie Andrews '17
Margo Dawes, G
Chrysonthia Horne '15
Leyla Isik, G
Larkin Sayre '17
Alex Toumar, G
Nathan Varady '16
Daniel Wang '15

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