Digging Deeper: Sexual Misconduct in the UW System
"Me Too" is not only a movement that has gained national attention through many celebrities speaking out on their encounters with sexual harassment and assault. It is also a phrase that is far too commonplace for women and men in the University of Wisconsin school system.
Newly released open records have revealed that there have been 96 formal investigations of employee sexual misconduct since 2014. 11 of those cases led to the employee's resignation or termination. The cases in the open records specifically focused on teaching, supervisory, and advising staff members.
UW-Milwaukee had the most investigations of any UW System school with 34. They were followed by UW-Oshkosh (19), UW-Whitewater (11), UW-Madison (7), UW Colleges (5), and UW-Green Bay (4). UW-Stevens Point, UW-Platteville and UW-Stout each received 3 complaints. UW-River Falls and UW-Eau Claire both had two. Three UW campuses - UW-Parkside, UW Extension and UW-Superior - investigated just one case each.
UW-La Crosse was one one of the campuses in the state's university school system that had no claims in this specific study. However, that does not mean that the problem is non-existent at these schools with no investigations to report. "This is an issue that we all struggle with. We want to make sure that when students are coming to our campuses, we are all really looking and sharing our best practices with each other," said Stephanie Marquis, the spokesperson for the UW System.
To try to combat the growing number of sexual misconduct cases, UW System president Ray Cross created a Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment in July 2014. The Task Force is comprised of students, faculty, and administrators across multiple disciplines. This includes the areas of counseling and health services, legal, Title IX offices, LGBTQ, communications, student services, law enforcement, disability services, and human resources.
Task Force member and UW-La Crosse Title IX Coordinator Nizam Arain said that while campuses all across the nation are dealing with this problem, he hopes that the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will encourage victims of sexual misconduct in the UW System to speak out against their perpetrators. "The increased national awareness around issues of sexual harassment is a good thing. I don't know yet whether it will result in a long-term change in our reporting rates. I'm hoping that, if anything, it will remove any perception on the part of individuals within our campuses or across the country that they ought to hesitate or be afraid to come forward with a complaint or a report of this nature," said Arain.
To take a systemwide approach to the issue, Arain and the other members of the Task Force proposed a list of recommendations in December 2016 to improve their policies and practices towards sexual misconduct. These recommendations included the following:
Systemwide sexual violence and harassment training for all employees and students.
Development of a UW System website that connects victims of sexual violence or harassment with campus support services, such as counseling and medical assistance, reporting information, and other resources.
A new comprehensive Board of Regents’ policy, which consolidates formerly separate sexual violence and harassment policies and will serve as a template to assist UW institutions in efficiently adopting consistent policies across the UW System.
Revising the existing policy on consensual relationships to help mitigate potential conflicts when there is a real or perceived conflict of interest and power differential.
Creation of an inter-educational collaborative effort bringing together educational stakeholders from K-12 schools, technical colleges, private colleges, and the UW System to discuss and share research and approaches to address sexual violence and harassment.
Carly Juzwik, a senior at UW-La Crosse, said that while the UW System is doing their part to raise awareness of issues of sexual misconduct, she thinks that the promotion of sexual education and consent should start at a younger age. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. "I think that that alone is a really large problem. If I didn't know about [high rates of sexual misconduct on college campuses], I'm sure 90% of my peers also didn't know that this was a problem," said Juzwik.
President Cross issued us the following statement on sexual misconduct happening in the UW System:
We are focused on changing the culture on our campuses and beyond so victims feel empowered to come forward. Sexual assault and harassment impacts all of us, and it is an upsetting commentary on our society. We have been implementing real, tangible approaches at our institutions to continue tackling these challenges. Our campus communities should be safe and welcoming places to live, learn and work – and there is no room for compromise on this commitment.
While this national problem is hitting home for many Wisconsin students and university employees, UW System officials are making it easier to report acts of sexual misconduct. This is in conjunction with President Cross' call for a 'zero tolerance culture' towards sex crimes on UW campuses.
Marquis said that even though the ultimate goal is to prevent sexual misconduct from occurring altogether, she hopes that more people come forward to report so that the incident can be investigated thoroughly. "The fact that our reporting numbers are going up is encouraging. We want people to feel empowered to report. We want people to come forward and tell us what has happened to help prevent these things in the first place and certainly support them if they do happen,” said Marquis. Juzwik also expressed how pivotal it is to report sexual crimes. "I think that it is a really important thing for people to see the resiliency of these survivors and that they are not alone," said Juzwik.