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National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America’s Colleges, Universities and Service Academies

April 5, 2019

Remarks as delivered at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis

Good morning! It’s a pleasure to be here to participate in this national dialogue with you on a topic that is so crucial to our collective success. I especially want to thank Secretary Spencer, Secretary Esper and Secretary Wilson for hosting this event and bringing us all together; Admiral Carter and the team here at the Naval Academy for serving as site hosts; and the planning team led by the Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for putting together such a thoughtful agenda.

We are convened to talk about sexual assault and misconduct at our nation’s colleges and universities and the role our institutions play in working to combat it. It is a topic that is central to our ability to fulfill our academic mission and to the ability of our students to thrive.

Yet if you were to have said to me, 40 years ago, at the onset of my academic career that I’d be delivering a keynote address on this topic, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Indeed, my training in mathematics focused in much different areas - on things that inspired me to pursue a career in the Academy: excellence in teaching and research, experiential learning, the truly transformative power of a college education.

But I am here today for the same reason you are: to learn from each other about a topic that, for most of us, falls far outside our areas of expertise. And we are here not only because we care deeply about the safety and success of our students, but also because we know that our institutions cannot maximize their academic excellence unless our campuses are safe, equitable, diverse, and inclusive. So in truth, today’s topic sits right at the core of why I chose a career in higher education and I expect that’s the case for many of you.

I was asked to talk about Dartmouth as a case study, to share with you the story of how Dartmouth came to be where we are today, openly and actively confronting sexual assault and violence on our campus. It is a story that’s still being written.

My plan is to briefly describe what we’ve done, what’s been successful and what has not, and of course, what we’ve learned. Then I want to leave plenty of time to open it up for all of you to weigh in with questions or insights.

I’ll talk today about three major initiatives we’ve undertaken at Dartmouth:

Moving Dartmouth Forward, launched in 2015, aimed at eliminating harmful behaviors within the undergraduate social scene;
Inclusive Excellence, launched in 2016, focused on diversifying the faculty and staff and building a more inclusive community;
- And our most recent initiative, the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, launched earlier this year, which seeks to reduce or eliminate gender harassment, sexual misconduct and abuse of power differentials on campus.

We think of these three initiatives, which are complementary in scope, as part of a comprehensive package. No single action we’ve taken is, by itself, new or innovative. The lessons to be learned are from how we’ve put them together in an effort to create a campus that is diverse, inclusive, equitable, and safe.

Each consists of a set of concrete actions – one to two dozen in each case. But the ultimate goal is for the actions to ingrain more positive practices and behaviors into the culture of our campus.

In each case, a task force spent one to two years developing the architecture of the initiatives, i.e., the set of actions to be taken, the metrics of success and the type of oversight that would ultimately insure accountability. These task forces:

- took a hard, evidence-based look at the current situation;
- harvested ideas from within our campus; and
- scoured the higher ed landscape for best practices, recognizing that what works well at other places might not work well for us.

In the case of Moving Dartmouth Forward and Inclusive Excellence, the task forces were internal, though for the Campus Climate and Culture initiative, we took advantage of a task force convened by the National Academies.

Another feature that these initiatives share is that in each case we put in place an independent, external advisory board reporting to the Trustees. The job of these boards are to evaluate whether we’re taking the actions we promised, and whether these actions are having the desired effect.

Each of these boards is chaired by someone with no affiliation to Dartmouth. In the case of Moving Dartmouth Forward, this board was chaired by Larry Bacow, who recently stepped down from this esteemed role given his new duties at Harvard. For Inclusive Excellence, the board is chaired by David Carrion-Bradley, who many of you may know. And in the case of the Campus Culture and Climate initiative, the board is chaired by Gilda Barabino, Dean of the Grove School of Engineering at CCNY. These oversight boards have helped us understand what is or is not working, and have also contributed to campus and alumni belief in what we are doing.

For all of these initiatives, data monitoring, transparency and accountability are essential components of our work. Each initiative has a website on which we post all data that we collect that is relevant to the initiative as well as any reports, including those made by the oversight boards to our Trustees.

With that in mind, let me give you a bit of history as to how and why we embarked on this approach.

When I became President of Dartmouth in 2013, the Trustees were deeply concerned about the long-term relevance of the institution.

They understood that Dartmouth remained a highly successful institution with accomplished faculty and outstanding students. But at the same time, the Trustees saw stark warning signs. They heard too many stories of harmful student behaviors on campus, stories that caused them great personal distress and deep concerns as fiduciaries of the institution. Adding to their concerns as fiduciaries, they saw indicators that this unhealthy campus climate was causing Dartmouth to lose ground in academic quality and reputation to its peers.

In admissions, our yield (the fraction of students admitted who choose to enroll) was stuck around 50%, near the bottom of the IvyPlus group. And in the wake of a damning exposé in Rolling Stone on hazing practices in the Greek system at Dartmouth, undergraduate applications dropped by 14%.

The campus was under active investigation by the Office of Civil Rights. High risk drinking and sexual assault and violence were the major focus of discussion on campus. Dartmouth was getting hammered on social media.

As I arrived at Dartmouth, the institution found itself at a pivotal moment in which change was necessary to reach our potential.

We needed to create an environment where students were free of extreme behaviors and part of a safe and healthy community. We needed to foster inclusivity by providing a variety of options for community building and social interaction. And we needed to engage our students in learning 24/7/365, lessening a bifurcated culture in which the residential and academic lives of our students were entirely separate from one another.

Shortly after my arrival, we began an eight-month planning process led by a Task Force of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Based on the recommendations of this Task Force, we launched Moving Dartmouth Forward in January of 2015, an initiative aimed at reducing extreme, harmful behaviors within the undergraduate student experience with high-risk drinking and sexual assault front and center.

We instituted a hard alcohol ban on campus. We knew, from data, that first-year students were most at risk from excessive alcohol consumption, accounting for over half of the alcohol-related medical transports we were seeing on our campus. And that the most significant issue with first-year students was pre-gaming: consumption of hard alcohol taking place behind closed doors in their residence halls. So, one of the main objectives of the hard alcohol ban was to reduce pre-gaming behavior.

On the sexual assault front, we adopted an external investigator model for serious sexual assault allegations, and instituted mandatory expulsion for those found responsible.

At the same time, we expanded training in bystander intervention and other tactics to encourage students to look out for one another, and we have developed a mandatory Sexual Violence Prevention Program for all undergraduate students that extended the education we had been doing during Freshmen orientation to a comprehensive four-year curriculum. As an aside, I should note that we adopted the idea of a four-year curriculum from today’s hosts, the U.S. Naval Academy.

Next, we undertook the most ambitious transformation of residential life at Dartmouth since co-education.

Specifically, we created a “House system” within our residential model to build greater community within our residence halls, to better connect students with faculty, create more options for social engagement and inject more intellectual content into the residential lives of our students.

Finally, we made clear that all student organizations – including the Greek houses – would be held to higher standards, and that any organization that did not live up to those standards would no longer have a place at Dartmouth.

At Dartmouth, students have a long tradition of independently organizing and defining the social scene on campus. We felt that we could not enact meaningful reform if we upended that tradition. To the contrary, we wanted student organizations, including Greek houses, to be allies in this work.

By and large, that has worked out. Greek houses led with significant reforms in training for new members, access by freshmen to their social events and practices around how they host events. And for those houses that were not on board, we took action. We have permanently closed the two that had been most recalcitrant (including, in a Nixon goes to China moment, my own fraternity from my days as an undergraduate at Dartmouth).

Those are some of the highlights of Moving Dartmouth Forward. So, how are we doing? Let me share with you a few key data points.

After the announcement and implementation of the hard alcohol ban, we saw a dramatic drop in the number of students self-reporting hard alcohol consumption. Specifically, in anonymous surveys, students report a 50% decrease in levels of hard alcohol consumption following the ban.

Similarly, the number of alcohol-related medical transports and the number of medical transports where students have high BAC stand at about half of what they were before these steps were taken.

In addition, our bystander intervention initiatives have had a notable effect. In the 2015 survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, Dartmouth students reported the highest rate of bystander interventions among all of the institutions surveyed. Specifically, 57.7% of Dartmouth students reported taking some type of action when they saw someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner, compared to 45.5% of students nationally.

On the other hand, the number of self-reported incidents of sexual assault, from anonymous surveys, remain unchanged.

And the extent to which students are embracing the new House Communities system is mixed at this point, with strong engagement by the younger classes, but more ambivalence by juniors and seniors. I believe it will be at least another decade before we understand the extent to which our transformation of residential life is having the desired effect.

Lastly, you may be wondering how Admissions has fared in the wake of this major reform in our social scene. In the years since Moving Dartmouth Forward, our yield has risen dramatically, from 50% to 64%, and our application numbers have rebounded from the 14% drop to be at all-time highs. For our students and alums who feared that a hard alcohol ban and these other steps would chill admissions, I can emphatically report that they have not.

While Moving Dartmouth Forward got us off to an energetic start, we still faced significant challenges on the diversity and inclusion front. There is a huge disconnect between the diversity of our student body compared to that of our faculty and staff. In 2016, 40% of our undergraduate student body self-identified as people of color, yet only 17% of our tenure and tenure track faculty were from underrepresented groups. The staff figure was even less, at only 8%.

At the same time, a campus climate survey showed that underrepresented communities and a measurable portion of our staff felt unsupported and excluded.

To address these issues, we convened three working groups to focus on diversity and inclusion for faculty, for staff and for students. Each group presented a set of recommendations for ways in which we could create a campus environment in which all felt welcome and valued, and diversity could thrive. That work led to the development of our Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence, launched in May 2016.

It focused on three key areas: diversifying the faculty and staff, creating an inclusive environment, and transparency and accountability.

On the first point, we took multiple concrete steps to recruit and retain faculty and staff who are under-represented in their fields.

- The Provost added central resources to aid in hiring faculty who bring diversity to their departments.
- We expanded the employee support networks that help underrepresented groups create connections and community at Dartmouth.
- We set up diversity advocates to work with all of our search committees and help identify candidates that are underrepresented in their fields.
- We implemented implicit bias training for everyone involved in the hiring, tenure and promotion processes. That includes search committees, our deans, our central tenure committee, the President and Provost, and our Board of Trustees.
- And we created post-docs with tenure-lines attached in fields where there is a diverse applicant pool. 

To help promote inclusive behaviors, we’re asking the Arts and Sciences faculty to institute an undergraduate course requirement on human difference, and we are growing the number of programs we offer to faculty and staff on modeling inclusive behavior and working effectively across difference.

What can we say by way of results? On the faculty and staff recruiting front, we’re making encouraging progress.

In each of the last two years, over half of our faculty recruits have been faculty of color, putting us on track to achieve our ten-year aim of reaching 25% faculty of color by 2027. On the staff side, we have also made notable gains, with the percentage of underrepresented groups up three percentage points to 11% in just three years.

On the other hand, efforts by the faculty of Arts and Sciences to agree on a distributive requirement around human difference seems mired in a bureaucratic purgatory.

I won’t say much more about Inclusive Excellence at this point except to point out that diversity and inclusion, including gender diversity, are fundamental to our ability to create a campus environment where gender harassment and sexual misconduct are not tolerated and where survivors are fully supported.

About a year after the launch of Inclusive Excellence, we got a wake-up call. We received the first allegations from graduate students of egregious sexual misconduct by three faculty members in our Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences. While a trained external investigator reviewed the allegations, the faculty members were on paid leave and were prohibited from entering campus property or attending any Dartmouth-sponsored events, regardless of location. The findings of the investigation led us to pursue tenure revocation proceedings against all three faculty members, who respectively resigned or retired from employment at Dartmouth.

This incident, and others like it across higher ed, motivated us to ask how we can more effectively prevent gender harassment, sexual misconduct and abuse of power differentials on our campus.

This was the origin of the third and final pillar in our campaign, the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, or C3I, launched earlier this year.

With C3I we are taking aim at sexual harassment and the abuse of power, with a particular emphasis on relationships between faculty, staff, post-docs and graduate students, so as not to duplicate the undergraduate-focused work we undertook as part of Moving Dartmouth Forward.

In designing C3I, we had the immense good fortune that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) had just issued its report entitled, Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, to which we turned as our essential framework. Through C3I, Dartmouth is embracing all of the recommendations for institutions of higher ed put forward by the National Academies in that report. And we’re adding a couple of other steps for good measure.

Our approach is three-fold: addressing the campus climate around gender harassment and power abuse; disrupting traditional power hierarchies through diverse recruitment and professional development; and enhancing the resources available for support. Let me speak a little bit about each of these, in turn.

First, we are supplementing our traditional academic reviews of departments and programs with separate reviews of departmental climate. What is it like to work or study there? Do graduate students feel supported? Do staff feel bullied? Are complaints addressed, let alone heard?

To help us develop a climate review capability, we have engaged Abby Stewart, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a national expert in creating inclusive academic environments. Abby will work with Vicki May, a professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, to build within Dartmouth, the expertise and staff who can lead climate reviews of all academic units going forward. These reviews will not only give us a baseline understanding, but will reveal areas in which we need to improve.

At the same time, we are creating a uniform sexual misconduct policy for all of Dartmouth, as opposed to our previously separate policies for faculty, students and staff, though importantly, we will maintain separate procedures for each. And we are streamlining the procedures for investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct against tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Separately, a policies-in-action working group will help us identify additional policies and practices we might want to employ to prevent abuse of power differentials across the institution.

On the training front, we’ve initiated mandatory Title IX training for all faculty, staff, post-docs and graduate students to ensure clear and consistent understanding and expectations.

Beyond that, we are creating leadership training programs specifically for department heads and those running labs and research groups. Our goal is to ensure that everyone who occupies a supervisory role – Deans, academic department chairs, directors, faculty members and principle investigators who manage other researchers have the tools to create an inclusive environment, and understand power dynamics and how to exercise power responsibly.

Concurrently, we have made research advisory committees mandatory for all graduate students, so that every graduate student has a relationship and feels comfortable speaking to multiple mentors.

We are enhancing our resources for compliance, outreach, prevention and support. We are further expanding our Title IX office in recognition of the pivotal role it plays, adding additional mental health counselors and survivor advocates on campus,

And finally, Dartmouth has joined the Action Collaborative sponsored by the National Academies to share ideas and best practices.

We are still in the earliest stages of our C3I initiative, so there isn’t much in the way of results to share just yet.

So, now that you’ve got a sense of the scope of what we’ve done, I thought I’d share some lessons learned along the way, because with every initiative we’ve launched, we’ve learned a lot.

First, issues surrounding sexual misconduct, campus climate, and power dynamics are complex, and no single action or intervention contains the consummate solution. You need to tackle these challenges comprehensively and from multiple perspectives. There are many factors at play in influencing behaviors, each of which requires deliberate and concerted effort in order to enact change.

Second, keep your community informed and believing in your efforts. When addressing issues surrounding climate or misconduct, community engagement is a must. Students, in particular, must be part of the solution. Many of the student reforms instituted at Dartmouth were initiated by the students themselves. They were actively involved in revising our Alcohol Management Program, in developing our Inclusive Excellence Action Plan and in designing our new residential model, as well.

Third: you have more allies in this work than it sometimes feels. Critics are often loud and outspoken, whereas those who are supportive tend to whisper in your ear. You will be hard pressed to find a student at Dartmouth who will, in front of their peers, say that they are supportive of our hard alcohol ban. But in private conversation, many students say that the campus is calmer and feels safer as a result of the ban.

Fourth, employ external experts to help assess your progress. Outside experts bring critical knowledge and fresh perspective to bear on our initiatives and, at the same time, provide us with a hard constraint every year to demonstrate progress. Additionally, external review committees provide an excellent check on internal group think. At Dartmouth, having external review committees by our side has given our full community the assurance that we would, indeed, be held to task.

Fifth, collect and analyze data to guide your actions, while understanding its limits. There is absolute value in taking a data-driven approach to problems, though equally important to recognize that data is imperfect. We all know that sexual assault is vastly underreported. Challenges with sexual assault data arise from definitional differences, as well. Climate data is difficult, too, for many of the same reasons. And scientifically speaking, there is no control group for our efforts around sexual assault or any other topic. That said, I’m a numbers guy – I believe in data so long as we are realistic about its limitations. And I encourage us all to add qualitative measures that go beyond participation rates and knowledge acquisition to evaluate attitude and behavioral change.

Sixth, communication and transparency is paramount. And even process-oriented communications are important. We’ve struggled with this at Dartmouth, though we’re far better at it today than when we first began. We were not sufficiently attentive to the fact that memories are short, and especially so with a campus population that turns over pretty quickly. I was surprised, in working with a student group last year, that they had heard of Moving Dartmouth Forward but had no idea of what it involved. And then it dawned on me that none of them were enrolled when the initiative was launched. It never hurts to repeat your message!

In addition, get comfortable with communicating difficult news from the top, and when you can’t say more – for legal reasons or otherwise – do your best to explain why and when you might be in a position to do so.

Seventh, tackling these issues is a marathon, not a sprint. When it comes to sexual assault prevention and improving campus climate, institutionalization, as opposed to initiatives, is the ultimate goal. And institutional change is hard at colleges and universities. You may remember the old saying that “Universities are where glaciers go to rest.” The most important thing to remember is to keep your eye on the prize, and to clearly identify achievable interim tasks that will get you to your goal.

Finally, appropriately acknowledge the past, but always focus on the future. We are celebrating our 250th Anniversary this year at Dartmouth and it has an opportunity to remember that we are a dynamic institution, a work in progress, a place that, at times, falls short as human institutions inevitably do, but is always evolving and striving to better itself. We mustn’t be afraid to acknowledge our mistakes of the past and how those missteps have made us wiser about the future.

I know I’ve given you a lot to digest and think about, so I’d like to stop there and allow us some time for questions and discussion. But, before I do, I want to remember something that I’ve heard Larry Bacow say about the issues we are discussing today. He noted that the complex issues around the safety of a campus are more like conditions to be managed rather than diseases to be cured. The work never ends. With that in mind, it gives me great hope for the future to look out at all of you and see so many academic leaders who care as deeply about these issues as I do.

If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that we cannot achieve our highest aspirations, as individuals or as institutions, without eliminating the behaviors that cause the most harm to our communities and inevitably hold us back. So, thank you for dedicating yourselves to that important work, and for inviting me to share my experiences with you today.

And now, I’d be delighted to welcome your questions and thoughts.

Last Updated: 4/16/19