Sexual misconduct response team kicks off work

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The group selected to advise the University of Michigan on its policies, procedures and prevention efforts related to sexual and gender-based misconduct met for the first time Dec. 6 to begin charting its goals and working topics.

President Santa J. Ono addressed the approximately 60-member Coordinated Community Response Team as it embarked on its work.

“Improving upon the policies and procedures underway at this university is a priority,” Ono said. “I feel very grateful to have all of you working on how we can address this very important problem on our campus and throughout higher education.

“My hope is that by working together we can not only improve the situation at this university, but also be an example for best practice for others in higher education.”

An immediate priority for the CCRT is finalizing its four to five working groups with the goal of producing a set of evidence-based recommendations for the university president by December 2023.

Working group topic areas to be finalized by the CCRT team include:

  • Repairing harm.
  • Transformative justice.
  • Prevention and education.
  • Obstacles to reporting.
  • Communication.
  • Organizational structure.
  • Support.
Photo of President Santa J. Ono addressing the first meeting of the Coordinated Community Response Team.
President Santa J. Ono addresses the first meeting of the Coordinated Community Response Team. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

CCRT members were selected following a call for nominees and represent the diverse expertise and perspectives of the university community. Members come from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses as well as from the broader local community.

Specific units and individuals sought out for their expertise and experience include the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Ann Arbor SafeHouse, medical providers of care to survivors, employees who work on transformative justice, student and alumni survivor voices, and university faculty whose research focuses on sexual harassment.

When asked about what goals CCRT members had, either for themselves or the group, Jim McEvilly, assistant director of survivor support and advocacy at SAPAC and an adjunct lecturer in the School of Social Work, said critical challenges include regaining the trust of the community.

“I hope that community trust can be strengthened and we are able to significantly increase the accessibility, effectiveness and scope of our institution’s response to sexual misconduct and the support we are able to leverage for survivors,” McEvilly said. “Particularly prioritizing the expansion of services tailored to meet the needs of communities that have historically — and still today — experience marginalization within the movement.”

Zaynab Elkolaly, a senior in the College of Engineering and member of Central Student Government and the Arab Student Association Community Action and Expansion Committee, said she’d like to see more inclusive representation of individuals coming forward to report and go through the university’s process.

“A huge barrier to survivors of color and LGBTQ+ survivors is that the person they’re speaking with, either by lack of education or shared identity, lacks the context needed to fully and comprehensively understand the nature of the incident being reported to them,” Elkolaly said.

“The hope is that survivors can be given the option to speak with a counselor who shares their identity and the cultural context that comes with it.”

CCRT is led by three co-chairs. They are:

  • Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, an external expert with experience evaluating institutional responses to sexual misconduct and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Sandra Levitsky, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of sociology in LSA.
  • Tamiko Strickman, special adviser to the president and executive director of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office.

The co-chairs hosted a number of listening sessions during September and October to gather input from the community that informed the proposed focus areas.

The listening sessions included representation of student and alumni survivors of sexual misconduct, staff, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, SAPAC, the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, and the LSA Student Government Sexual Misconduct Response and Prevention Task Force.

CCRT also offered listening sessions to CSG, student organizations serving students of color, and student organizations serving LGBTQ+ students.

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