After more than two months of negotiations between student activists and the university, the Georgetown University Student Association and administrators agreed upon policy reforms regarding campus sexual assault in a memorandum of understanding released Monday.
In the six-point memorandum, GUSA and administrators agreed to increase bystander education programs, expand marketing campaigns for campus resources for survivors, collect information about the university climate regarding sexual assault and expedite the hiring of a full-time Title IX coordinator.
The memorandum was the result of three meetings held in the past two months between GUSA, student activists and the administration, marking a milestone in the ongoing student-led movement calling for the university to re-evaluate its resources and policies.
GUSA Vice President Connor Rohan (COL ’16) said he is satisfied with the progress they have made with the administration on the issue.
“We are thrilled that we can play a role in making Georgetown a more survivor-centric community,” Rohan said. “We only had two serious things on our platform when we were running, and one of them was sexual assault, so it’s good to see concrete progress in that.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who participated in the negotiations and signed the memorandum on behalf of the university, said that he was content with the outcome of the memorandum.
“I am enthused about the collaborative work with students that led to this MOU,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am very grateful to everyone involved for their commitment and care around these vital issues.”
Olson also said the university will be sure to stay committed to the agreements made in the MOU.
“We are publicly signing this MOU, and thus saying to the campus community that we will take these actions,” Olson wrote. “We are committed to following through on each of the commitments.”
The MOU details responsibilities for both GUSA and the administration to meet the shared objectives, with specific deadlines set for many of the commitments.
Both parties will engage with Health Education Services, the Women’s Center and other offices to develop an ongoing, comprehensive and far-reaching bystander education program, which will be implemented by next March.
Students and administrators have also agreed to improve the quality and quantity of marketing channels for survivor resources, including a redesign of the university’s sexual assault website and the placement of resource contact information on the back of GOCards, starting with these of the Class of 2020.
The university will also conduct a thorough campus climate survey by mid-January 2016. The CCS is a common instrument used by universities to comprehend incidents of and attitudes toward sexual violence on their campus.
The university will also move forward with its plan to hire a full-time Title IX coordinator, which began over a year ago. The administration will extend interview dates to final candidates by the end of the month. The role is currently filled by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, who is assisted by several deputy coordinators.
Kilkenny did not reply to a request for comment on the MOU.
In addition to the above specific commitments, both GUSA and administrators will continue to evaluate existing policies, with biweekly meetings scheduled between the two parties.
Rohan said GUSA will continue to seek student input throughout the process.
“As we created this memorandum, we consulted with a bunch of students from a bunch of organizations and a lot of survivors of sexual assault. As we move forward, we’re still going to engage with these groups and individuals,” Rohan said.
GUSA Secretary of Student Safety Maddy Moore (SFS ’17) said that although GUSA and the administration shared mutual interests, the two parties were not able to immediately agree on the issue of covering financial costs for survivors.
“Something that was left out of the conversation on the MOU … is the ongoing discussion about absorbing survivors’ financial costs due to their experiences, which would include some type of housing accommodation, medical accommodation and [coverage of] paperwork fees,” Moore said. “That’s something we definitely want to push for.”
GUSA President Joe Luther (COL ’16) said that GUSA will prioritize this concern as dialogue with the university continues.
“That’s one of the first things we’ll be talking about,” Luther said. “That has big financial implications, so we have to find out what’s reasonable and what’s required and how we can make this the most survivor-centric.”
The initial conversation between GUSA and the administration was scheduled in mid-July, after an opinion piece in The Hoya co-authored by Zoe Dobkin (SFS ’16) and Willa Murphy (“I Stand With Willa, I Stand With Survivors,” thehoya.com, July 21, 2015) was widely shared across the university community. The piece, which detailed Murphy’s experience with the university and subsequent expulsion following her rape, ignited dialogue about sexual assault at Georgetown.
The movement gained further momentum when Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17), another survivor of sexual assault, shared her experiences in a viewpoint published in The Hoya (“A Shared Obligation,” thehoya.com, July 29, 2015).
In less than a month following the publication of the first opinion piece, students met with administrators Aug. 10 to discuss policy reform.
Hinerfeld said that she hopes the MOU will cause students and administrators to take concrete action against sexual assault.
“I hope that students will see the number of different changes Georgetown is committed to enacting, and I hope that through these changes, students will see tangible ways to get involved,” Hinerfeld wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Hinerfeld also said that she was optimistic about the continued efforts of students and administrators to improve the environment for survivors on campus.
“The negotiations these past few weeks have made it more clear to me than ever before that the administrators in these meetings care deeply about serving students,” Hinerfeld wrote. “Through continued collaboration, the administration, GUSA and student activists will hold each other accountable and follow through on our obligations.”
In light of the tangible agreements made by GUSA and the administration, Moore said it is important for the community to continue its involvement in the issue.
“It’s an important step, but it’s important to clarify that it’s a continuation of the activism that’s been happening on campus for the last decade,” Moore said. “We want to keep the conversation going, and that’s going to take a lot of work.”