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October 18 , 2004
To the editor:
Emory University, under the leadership of President [Jim] Wagner, is dedicated to building an international community guided by ethical principles and practice. In this climate of self-evaluation, we commend President Wagner’s open and compassionate communications informing the community about the allegations against the executive vice president [for finance and administration]. His strong statement regarding the Emory community’s “abhorrence” for conduct legally defined as sexual battery clearly conveys how incompatible such behavior is with the expectations of an ethically engaged University. This public statement breaks the silence often surrounding such allegations and incidents, and communicates permission to acknowledge issues of sexual assault within the University community.
The new Office of Sexual Assault Response and Education was developed for this purpose. Our mission is to “create a community intolerant of sexual violence, with expectations of communication and respect between genders.” Regrettably, sexual assault is all too common on the college campus. Research indicates that one in four women will experience sexual assault during college, yet it is the most underreported college crime.
Our goal is to empower individuals to disclose sexual assault and raise awareness of the prevalence of this problem. Furthermore, enabling individuals to report unwanted sexual experiences supports the ability of the community to sanction such behavior and hold perpetrators accountable. To create a “community intolerant of sexual violence,” we must significantly improve our efforts in this regard.
The relationship between alcohol abuse and sexual assault on the college campus is a significant one. More than 80 percent of sexual assaults occur when either one or both individuals have consumed alcohol. In fact, alcohol is the primary “date rape” drug on college campuses. Women compromised by alcohol intoxication are unable to give consent, and research suggests a complex interrelationship between men’s expectations regarding sex, sexually aggressive behavior and alcohol use.
Issues of alcohol abuse, and the convoluted messages about alcohol use on college campuses, are being addressed at Emory. Key administrators, faculty and staff invested in raising awareness of these issues met last spring with a panel of experts to explore these very dilemmas.
Furthermore, a follow-up symposium to address the results of a recent needs assessment is scheduled for November 2004. Alcohol abuse is a significant problem in both college students and society at large. The ongoing development of alcohol awareness programs at Emory must incorporate compassionate and skillful approaches to improve education, intervention, and treatment for affected Emory professionals and students. The Emory community, with its vast resources and commitment to ethical leadership, can and will be a leader in building a community that confronts these difficult issues proactively and effectively.
director, Sexual Assault Response and Education Services
director, Center for Women
chair, President’s Commission on the Status of Women
substance abuse and wellness counselor/health educator
Student Health Services