Office of the President

November 26, 2019

We all are responsible collectively for stamping out sexual harassment

Ana Mari Cauce

Our purpose as a university is defined by curiosity and inquiry, the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of discovery. We simply cannot fulfill this purpose if some members of our community are prevented from achieving their full potential because of sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination or assault. Academia is certainly not exempt from the problem of sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination and abuse. In fact, the culture and conventions of academia create power imbalances that, at times, allow these behaviors to go unchecked. That must end, and the responsibility for ending it lies with us.

Last week, I was honored to join many of our community members at a summit, hosted on our campus in Seattle, of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. The summit both acknowledged that sexual harassment and abuse remain persistent and devastating problems in higher education and served as a catalyst for the work that our institution and many others are doing to eradicate this issue across the sector. Widespread, systemic change demands collaboration across and within institutions and even then it may not come as fast as we would like. The UW is committed to efforts that will make permanent and lasting changes so summits like this one won’t be necessary a generation from now. To learn more about the UW’s work with NASEM and to follow our ongoing engagement, visit the UW NASEM page.

Our efforts to stamp out sexual harassment and abuse in our community reach beyond our work with NASEM, however, and we are committed to preventing and addressing all forms of sexual misconduct at the UW. As you may know, we recently completed a university-wide climate survey, which included questions about sexual harassment and assault. We are grateful to the more than 19,000 students, faculty and staff who participated, and we plan to use the results, which will be released this coming spring, to improve our university’s climate, as we strive to foster an environment in which everyone may thrive.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced sexual harassment or other misconduct, please contact SafeCampus, which is available at all times for all UW locations. SafeCampus assists individuals with immediate safety planning and connects the person who has experienced the harm with a confidential advocate. Confidential advocates are available to all UW students and employees, and can provide ongoing safety planning and support, connect anyone who has been harmed to campus and local resources, and explain the rights and reporting options including the right to make a formal report to the University or the police. Communication with advocates is confidential, as are communications with mental health counselors and medical care professionals. SafeCampus also provides support and consultation to individuals who are not directly impacted by these behaviors, but are assisting or seeking support for someone else. SafeCampus can also be contacted anonymously and individuals can choose how much to share.

Our Title IX Coordinator, Valery Richardson, is available for consultation about specific situations and reporting options as well as overall compliance with Title IX. Our Title IX office also has information about current education and outreach opportunities as well as new initiatives under development to address and prevent sex and gender-based discrimination and harassment. Some of those initiatives include resource and prevention training for all members of the UW community that we expect to pilot and then launch in the spring and fall of 2020. Work is also underway to review our policies and protocols to be sure our community is aware of both our values and procedures for addressing misconduct. The Office of the Title IX Coordinator is also keeping a close watch on potential changes to the Title IX rules, and we will continue to update our community if and when new regulations are announced.

One of the themes that emerged during last week’s NASEM summit was the difference between “culture” and “climate.” Culture was described as the rules, policies and language that we use to define acceptable behavior and attitudes. Climate is what we actually experience – in other words, whether we walk the walk as well as talk the talk.  As leaders, we are responsible for creating a culture that does not tolerate sexual harassment and abuse. As a community, we are all responsible for creating a climate that lives up to that ideal.