From time to time, I will be addressing some of higher education’s big issues on this blog. Today, my choice of issue is the result of significant events at Brandeis. Six weeks into our fall semester, Brandeis has marked two milestones in our efforts to recognize, discuss and address the issue of sexual and domestic violence in the higher education setting.
Sadly, no institution, no matter how much we love and trust our community, is immune from the stain of sexual violence. We are all challenged by a pervasive culture that often can embolden those who would do harm to others, and can undermine the right of our students to feel safe on our campus. Brandeis should, must, and will be a leader in changing this culture.
This is why I am so pleased with the hire of Sheila McMahon as sexual assault services and prevention specialist for our campus. In this role, she will coordinate advocacy services for survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking, conduct outreach and education to promote a healthy campus environment, and serve as a liaison to student organizations.
Ms. McMahon is not just a leader for our campus; she is positioned to be a leader at the national level on these issues. She brings a deep background in research, theory and practice in the arena of sexual assault prevention and education to Brandeis and this is where we want to be in this important area.
Second, thanks to the leadership of Professor Bernadette Brooten, our students and alumni, we hosted a statewide conference on sexual and domestic violence, called Massachusetts Steps Up. More than 300 educational leaders came to Brandeis to discuss the common challenges we face in higher education:
- How to respond to the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter with a consistent process that protects the rights of survivors of assault and violence to receive an education.
- How to create an open and honest environment for discussion of difficult issues in a way that is consistent with our values and educational goals.
- How to be an ultimate catalyst for change in our society by raising awareness of issues of sexual and domestic violence.
For me, as a leader who has spent my career in the arena of civil rights, these issues are particularly pressing because I know firsthand the challenges posed by putting theory into practice. Sometimes we face situations where the letter and the spirit of the law or our guidelines may be in conflict and I know that there is complexity inherent in how we prevent and respond to sexual and domestic violence on our campuses.
I want our entire community to know that the health and safety of our community is paramount. We take great pride in the fact that at Brandeis, in ensuring that we have a healthy community, we are not afraid to discuss and confront difficult issues. I hope that you will all join me in welcoming Ms. McMahon to our campus and support her efforts to do just that.