August 23, 2018
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
I will send you a more traditional welcome back message as the official start of classes draws nearer. In this message, however, I want to address a matter of national import that has affected our campus and community as the new academic year approaches.
Early in my tenure, I indicated my commitment to Oberlin's nondiscrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policies, issues that have been a part of my core work throughout my career. One month after I arrived at Oberlin, the #metoo movement began its rapid climb into the public consciousness, empowering voices everywhere to share their stories. Across the country, every part of our society has been and is being rightfully held accountable, including the higher education community.
Over the course of this past year, many colleges have dealt with allegations that have come to light as a result of individuals’ newfound willingness to come forward. During my first year at Oberlin College & Conservatory, we received several reports from alumni alleging violation of our sexual misconduct policy by faculty members. In each instance, we launched an independent investigation. While these allegations concern actions that occurred some years ago, it is possible that we may discover more recent misconduct as we continue our investigations.
Some of the individuals facing these complaints chose to tender their resignations rather than participating in our investigative process. Despite these resignations, our investigative processes continue so we can ascertain the facts. Others participated in the formal process. In each instance, we used an independent investigator to complete fact-finding or to conduct climate assessments in the appropriate departments to determine if the conduct was more than an isolated occurrence.
Institutions must be effectively prepared to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and to prevent such misconduct whenever possible. Oberlin has continued over the past decade to review and enhance its policies regarding sexual misconduct. To that end, we currently communicate our policies to all new employees—faculty and staff—and to students beginning with first-year orientation. Additionally, our Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion conducts required training sessions throughout the year on Oberlin’s policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct that faculty and staff are required to complete.
Oberlin takes seriously its duty to clearly communicate our expectations to all new employees and students. All first-year students receive training through two mandatory workshops on college policies, consent, and bystander intervention while all student athletes and coaches receive yearly training per the NCAA rules.
Our policies regarding relationships between employees and students are clear. The sexual misconduct policy explicitly prohibits sexual relationships between employees and students, including relationships that are consensual, because of the potential negative impact on individuals as well as on the college's learning and working community.
I believe strongly that as a community, we can have no greater goal than to ensure that Oberlin's educational environment is safe, fair, equitable, and inclusive to the highest ethical and academic standards, and that it is free of all forms of discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct and violence. While each of the allegations I have mentioned has its distinctive set of facts, they are a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant in our work to ensure that everyone at this great institution lives up to the sacred trust between teacher and student that is the cornerstone of our academic mission.
To ensure that our sexual misconduct policies are robust and being enforced, our Title IX coordinator will build on the past decade’s efforts to enhance Oberlin’s policies and procedures by leading this year a group of faculty, staff and students in a review that will: (1) make recommendations for the improving the sexual misconduct policy; and (2) make recommendations regarding improved training and compliance.
To inform these recommendations, the group will conduct focus groups to reexamine our policies, discuss proposed policy revisions, and review the recommendations from departmental climate assessments. I also have asked the Dean of Arts & Sciences and the Dean of the Conservatory and other senior leadership to work with faculty governing bodies to have a more robust conversation about these issues on campus and to make the employee training even more accessible. As a member of our community, you can also support this work by encouraging and reporting concerns if they arise (Anonymous reports and concerns can be forwarded to go.oberlin.edu/ReportNow).
We must do this work as a community—to hold ourselves and our colleagues up to the appropriate standards and to encourage reporting to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion if we are aware of a potential policy violation. The institution must continue to respond thoughtfully and expeditiously when allegations are raised. And we must continue working to create a community where this behavior does not occur.
All of us at Oberlin remain committed to a fair, unbiased and exhaustive search for the facts. And we insist that all members of the Oberlin community—especially those who wield power and influence—live up to the highest standards of integrity.
Carmen Twillie Ambar