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Open letter from President Simon on sexual assault (Sept. 2, 2014)

To Spartans everywhere:

Sexual assault in all its forms is a serious problem on American campuses, and ours is no exception. A truly pervasive social problem that is underreported everywhere, its impact on both victim and community is profoundly damaging.

Anywhere sexual violence or intimidation meet with indifference, the cultural corrosion is contrary to everything Michigan State University stands for. This is our challenge and our problem—every single one of us.

At this moment, college campuses are the focus of particular national scrutiny. MSU is one of more than 70 colleges and universities being reviewed by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for our handling of sexual assault complaints. Legislation also was introduced recently in Congress to hold higher education more accountable for what happens within our communities. We welcome such wider acknowledgement of this significant problem, and whatever the outcome of the OCR review, we will continue to work to improve our efforts to promote safety and security.

This is something we’ve long understood. This year we observe the 20th anniversary of Safe Place, a program combating relationship violence and stalking. We’re also building on the 2004 University Task Force on Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence with renewed vigor during the fall. We’re applying government guidance to improve our Sexual Harassment Policy, including reporting and investigation expectations, disciplinary hearings, counseling services and education programs. We have forged greater cooperation between campus police and local law enforcement agencies.

Today, MSU is responding to guidance from the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault and amendments to the Violence Against Women Act, which add responsibilities to investigate and report domestic violence and stalking.

Engagement is part of the Michigan State essence, so students cannot be passive observers. We are working to build a culture of active respect and concern that expects Spartans to support and protect one another, whether we’re talking about sexual assault, racism or bullying. Any of us can appropriately intervene if a Spartan or other individual is at risk. And when the Spartan community engages in frank discussion to gauge problems and to develop solutions, it becomes a powerful example of embodying the change we wish to see in the world.

We will do what is necessary to respond effectively to sexual violence in accordance to not just the law but also with MSU’s core values. We will do whatever it takes to create a safe, respectful environment for learning and working. We will show what Spartans can do when they work together to tackle one of society’s most significant problems.

It’s on us. Say it. Own it. Spartans Will.

Lou Anna K. Simon
President, Michigan State University