Message from President Alger about student safety

by Bill Wyatt


As president of James Madison University, I want to welcome new students and their families to campus as Summer Springboard Orientation begins this week.

One of the issues we know is of utmost concern to our entire community is student safety. In fact, our society currently is in the midst of a national dialogue about safety on college campuses, particularly about the serious issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I want to assure you and our entire University community that this institution does everything in its power to help keep our students safe.

As new arrivals on our campus, you should know that JMU offers a wide range of programs aimed at raising awareness about and confronting the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I have asked several colleagues to join in responding to a set of questions below that addresses concerns for student safety. We are fortunate to have colleagues with significant professional expertise and experience in dealing with these issues.

Questions and Answers with JMU staff responsible
for handling sexual assault and harassment

Liz Howley, Assistant Director, University Health Center

How does the university work to raise awareness about sexual assault?

The Campus Coalition Against Sexual Assault is a dedicated group of faculty, staff, and students who hope to stimulate dialogue in our community around issues of sexual violence. By educating our community on preventing and responding to sexual violence we contribute to a campus climate that is inclusive and supportive of all survivors. To assist with accessing resources, here are resources provided by the Health Center.

Also, the University Health Center provides programming and services rooted in primary prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence. We support and advise student organizations like Campus Assault Response, The Men’s Program and Reality Educators Advocating Campus Health. We collaborate to sponsor professional speakers, trainings and events on campus that bring awareness to these issues and show support for survivors. Nationally known events and campaigns like Take Back the Night, The Clothesline Project and The Red Flag Campaign help underscore the impact sexual and intimate partner violence can have on the lives of everyone in our community.

Dr. Tricia Crocker, Sexual Trauma Empowerment Program (STEP) Coordinator, Counseling Center

What sorts of counseling resources are available to survivors of sexual assault?

The University offers counseling that ranges from immediate crisis assistance to sexual trauma empowerment programs for individuals and groups. Individual counseling by certified counselors provides survivors with a safe and confidential environment to explore their sexual trauma and how it may be affecting other aspects of their lives. Support groups for survivors of sexual trauma and a women's process group are guided by counselors and provide a space in which students can share their experiences, discover that they are not alone and gain encouragement by observing the successes of others.

The counseling center also acts in an advocacy role for sexual trauma survivors with medical, judicial, and legal referrals, while also leading university-level efforts to better respond to and support the needs of survivors.

Josh Bacon, Director, Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices

What is the process at JMU for adjudication of complaints?

The University has a student accountability process under which complaints including sexual harassment and/or sexual assault can be filed. The adjudicatory process includes faculty, staff and students who are trained to review such matters, as well as multiple levels of appeal. The process is designed to enforce compliance with University policy and applicable law and to protect the rights of all parties involved. Adjudicatory bodies must carefully weigh all the facts and evidence within a particular context and set of circumstances. As a public institution, the University must comply with both federal anti-discrimination statutes and due process requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

The University is an educational institution. Its policies and procedures are not the same as a court of law. Individuals can also seek redress through the criminal justice system if they believe that a crime has been committed. The University cooperates fully with law enforcement in such circumstances.
We are in the midst of a comprehensive, ongoing review of our policies, procedures, training, and support services relating to sexual harassment and assault to ensure that we are doing all we can to reflect recent guidance and evolving best practices. This review began long before recent media reports and will take into account the most recent federal guidance on this subject.

What sanctions are possible for those found responsible for sexual assault?

It is important to note that the sexual assault policy covers behavior ranging from inappropriate touching to non-consensual sexual contact and rape. The sexual assault policy covers this broad spectrum of behavior and is classified as a major violation, meaning that all sanctioning options are available.

If a student is found responsible for sexual assault and/or sexual harassment, the range of sanctions includes probation, educational programming, no contact with survivor(s), suspension, and expulsion. It is the responsibility of the adjudicatory bodies to determine sanctions based on all the facts and evidence before them. If a student is found in non-compliance with a sanction—such as contacting a survivor or coming to campus when suspended or expelled—JMU Public Safety enforcement of sanctions can result.

What is the impact of federal privacy law?

Under federal privacy law applicable to institutions of higher education (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA), colleges and universities are not free to discuss specific educational records pertaining to individual students with certain limited exceptions set forth in the law. Judicial records are considered educational records.

How can members of the university community generally play a role?

As the institution named for the Father of the Constitution, we welcome civil discourse and vigorous, thoughtful debate on the important issues in our society including sexual assault. Participation in training and educational events is an important way for members of the university community to learn about their roles and responsibilities with regard to this topic. We also hope and expect that members of the JMU community will understand and respect the importance of following legally mandated processes, and withhold judgment when they do not have all the facts in a given situation.

Finally, let me emphasize that we urge any student who has concerns or questions to seek the immediate help and support available to them through the University. James Madison University is a wonderful community to join, and together we can constantly work toward creating a safe environment for everyone.

Jonathan R. Alger, President

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Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 10, 2021

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