November 6, 2019

PU Releases Reports On Sexual Misconduct, Plans Path Forward

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton University released two new reports last month regarding policies, resources, and communications for combating sexual misconduct on campus.

Generated in response to protests last spring organized by Princeton IX Now (formerly Princeton Students for Title IX Reform), the reports, one external and one internal, offer recommendations on the University’s Title IX process. The protests culminated in a nine-day, round-the-clock sit-in outside Nassau Hall from May 7 to 11.

Describing Princeton’s Title IX system in their list of 11 demands as “opaque, victim-blaming, and traumatizing,” the protesters last spring wrote on their website, “We demand the reform of Title IX procedures at Princeton to protect survivors. Individually, we have tried to pursue reform through bureaucratic processes and meetings with various administrators. This has not reformed the system. We demand more.”

The website also included accounts from more than 30 anonymous students and University employees about their personal experiences with Title IX.

Princeton IX Now’s list of demands included a call for the external review of the Title IX system, along with a number of other items addressed in the two new reports and on the University’s agenda for further consideration and action in the coming months.

Following up on last month’s internal and external reports in a letter to the Princeton University community, Provost Deborah Prentiss noted that “the reports converge on four key areas in which the University could and should do more.” She has asked the administration to focus promptly on addressing those areas.

As controversy over issues of sexual harassment, assault, and other acts of sexual misconduct take place at universities and throughout the larger society, Princeton has asserted its commitment to “ensuring that all of its community members can learn, work, and thrive in a safe, supportive, and fair environment, free from sexual misconduct and all forms of discrimination to the community.”

The external review team of three professionals from Emory University, Duke University, and Virginia Commonwealth
University, all with extensive experience in the field of Title IX issues, found that Princeton had a strong Title IX infrastructure, but noted that, despite those objective strengths, “some students feel that their needs are not being met.”

In the area of recommended support offered to students involved in sexual misconduct cases, including “additional resources, new programs, enhanced communications, and other mechanisms,” Prentiss has called on University Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun to come up with a plan by the end of the calendar year, with the goal of complete implementation by the end of the academic year.,

Noting the difficulty in implementing recommended changes in the University’s adjudication process in sexual misconduct cases because of frequently changing federal regulations and guidance on Title IX, Prentiss called on University Vice President and General Counsel Ramona E. Romero to assess the recommendations in the reports and render advice by the end of the calendar year.

To implement the reports’ recommended enhancements to training programs, communications, and engagement efforts in order to create a more positive campus climate and culture, Prentiss has asked the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) at its next meeting on November 11 to create a new committee on sexual misconduct, which she will charge with developing a plan for implementing the reports’ recommendations on training, communications, and engagement.

In response to the reports’ recommendation that the University explore alternative procedures and practices for resolving complaints about sexual misconduct and restoring the complainant, the respondent, and the community outside of the regular Title IX procedures, Prentiss pointed out that a working group is already exploring these possibilities, and she has asked that it speed up its work and deliver a report with a set of recommendations by the end of this calendar year.

“We will have many opportunities to discuss these reports as a campus community, beginning with an initial discussion at the CPUC meeting in November,” Prentiss said.

The external review report concludes, “To be at all successful in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct, a college or university must commit to continuous improvement — assessment as well as action — and continuous engagement at all levels with consideration of all viewpoints and feedback. In this sense, a Title IX program is never fully built yet can be operating exceptionally well.”