President's statement on bias and sexual misconduct

Dear Members of the Cornell Community,

I am writing to update you about the work we have been doing on the Ithaca campus to better understand and address sexual misconduct, including violence and assault, and bias in the wake of the issues that arose last semester.

Overall, we have systems in place to respond to incidents, and we are working to make them more responsive and more robust. We now need to lower the likelihood of such incidents occurring by making a deliberate commitment in how we operate to prevent sexual misconduct and all forms of bias and by focusing on how we treat each other, how we think about ourselves, and what each of us–and all of us–can do to foster a respectful, safe, inclusive and engaged academic environment.

I thank our staff and students for their advocacy and for the work they put into the Incident Management Team (IMT) on sexual misconduct and bias last fall. I have carefully reviewed the IMT's report.

I concur with a major thrust of the report: "The extent to which a wide array of individuals, departments, and groups has felt and taken responsibility for these issues is impressive. The lack of coordination, clear communication, ongoing assessment of needs and strategies, and prioritizing of resources has obscured both current strengths and critical gaps in what is provided."

The group's recommendations — from enhanced services and enforcement to improved communications and educational outreach — are being evaluated and, as they are ready, implemented to strengthen the university's existing programs for the prevention of both sexual misconduct and all forms of bias throughout our community.

In keeping with the group's key recommendations to give these priorities the campus-wide visibility and focus they deserve, I will assign oversight, policy-setting and action to the highest levels of the university.

  • The University Diversity Council (UDC), a policy-setting body that I chair, will incorporate into its work on composition, inclusion, engagement and achievement a focus on the prevention of bias and sexual misconduct. In addition, the UDC will coordinate campus climate assessment to guide ongoing efforts in these important areas. I am asking the UDC to support Provost Fuchs and me in working with each dean and vice president to enhance our collective efforts to prevent both bias and sexual misconduct.
  • I have asked that a standing action-oriented group chaired by Vice President Susan Murphy, newly renamed the Executive Committee on Campus Climate, Health, and Safety (ECCCHS), expand its scope to encompass campus climate in addition to health and safety. The ECCCHS will transform the diversity council's policy work into an effective campus-wide framework for the delivery of services, educational outreach and training to improve the campus climate and confront both sexual misconduct and all forms of bias at Cornell.
  • Specifically, I have asked the ECCCHS to strengthen the enforcement of our community standards, conduct research and evaluation, and promote educational initiatives for faculty, staff and students. I have asked Vice President Murphy to include faculty, staff and student representatives in the working groups needed to carry out ECCCHS activities to prevent all forms of bias and sexual misconduct.
  • As a first priority, I am asking the ECCCHS to promulgate clear response protocols for bias incidents that affect the campus community to complement the university's excellent crisis management protocols. These new protocols need to be in place as soon as possible, but no later than one month from the date of this statement.

As the IMT recommended, we are stepping up our communications efforts to give the community prompt access to the knowledge and resources needed for a better and safer community and to provide information about the university's progress in meeting its goals for community-wide inclusion and engagement.

The IMT's valuable work is already bearing fruit in some focused areas. At the start of the semester, for instance, we presented a successful pilot program on sexual violence, "Speak About It," during New Student Orientation for transfer students, and we will incorporate programming on sexual misconduct into New Student Orientation in August. We also launched a new website, (Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education), an informational resource on sexual misconduct for all members of the Cornell community. We instituted additional Cornell Police patrols at the time of the assault incidents last fall and established a special police investigation task force. We have expanded our on-campus Blue Light Escort service hours, and are continuing Chief of Police Kathy Zoner's Blue Light weekly safety email to the campus community. We continue to explore additional ways to educate the campus community about the resources available and how to tap into them.

Despite this clear progress, persistent issues on campus and continuing feedback from our community have convinced me that we have far yet to go. I call on everyone in our community to engage in self-reflection, examine the issues, and join us in efforts to eliminate sexual misconduct and all forms of bias from our campus community. I am counting on your collective wisdom and action.

David J. Skorton