Statement from the Women’s Concerns Committee

The Women’s Concerns Committee of the University Senate is calling for a public dialogue about the closure of the Advocacy Center.

Dear University Senators and Senate Committee Chairs,

As members of the Women’s Concerns Committee of the University Senate, we write to express our concern about the Chancellor’s announcement on May 30, 2014 that “the services of the Advocacy Center will be integrated and aligned with the Counseling Center, Office of Student Assistance, and Office of Health Promotion. . . . Under the new structure, the Counseling Center will serve as the primary entry point for students who have been impacted by sexual violence and who need access to confidential and privileged services.” As you may or may not be aware, the doors of the Advocacy Center officially closed on June 4, 2014. Additional information about, and responses to, the Chancellor’s decision are posted below our signature line.

As a Senate committee, we are concerned that the Chancellor’s decision was made without consultation with the larger University community, including the University Senate and University Senate committees such as ours, which directly address women’s concerns. This is not a simple change, and is one with many consequences for our University community and our students.

The Advocacy Center (formerly known as The R.A.P.E. Center) provided sexual assault resources and support to our students. While we understand the decision to close the Advocacy Center is meant to ensure compliance with Title IX and to create a single entry point for services and support for sexual assault survivors, we are concerned about what the loss of the Advocacy Center means for the survivor community. When the Advocacy Center was founded in 1990 as the Rape: Advocacy, Prevention and Education (R.A.P.E.) Center, no comparable center existed on a college campus in the United States.

Now, with the closing of our long-standing Advocacy Center, a powerful identity and community has been lost. The strength of the Center was that it combined advocacy services, prevention, and education into one space, the result of which was the creation of a community of empowered bystanders that welcomed survivors and allies. Being a part of such a community strengthens and empowers any individual, and begins the process of changing culture. And, the prevention and education programs offered by The Advocacy Center were so effective because of their direct association with the advocacy services offered. For more on the history of the Advocacy Center, see http://advocacycenter.syr.edu/resources-information/history.html

The realignment of advocacy services means that survivors will no longer have access to the most knowledgeable and experienced victims’ advocates on campus in the same way as before. The Counseling Center, while a valuable resource, presents very real barriers to reporting for a variety of reasons, including its physical location and the space itself, as well as negative associations due to cultural and social norms. The choice of what resources to access should ultimately be in the hands of the survivors—we need to allow them to have power and control over their own processes.

Recently, a group of Syracuse University students put together a petition to reinstate the Advocacy Center on change.org. Their petition asks the following, and it has been signed by over 5,000 faculty, staff, students, and alumni:

We respectfully ask that you [the Chancellor] reinstate The Advocacy Center and allow it to provide confidential sexual assault support services and education at Syracuse University for students. As students, faculty, alumni, and friends of Syracuse, we ask that you reconsider your decision. This change in the campus community will negatively impact students. This center provides counseling, education, support, and critical resources to students that make our campus safer for all of our community. We cannot place it within another office on campus and assume its purpose will be the same.

We are also aware of a petition circulating in the Maxwell School to reinstate the Center and a letter calling for the same being circulated among Syracuse University faculty. Clearly, many faculty members feel the decision to close the Advocacy Center was not made in consultation with the constituencies most affected by sexual assault—our undergraduate and graduate students—or with faculty and staff or with the University Senate. Indeed, announcing the decision after Commencement when most faculty and students are away from campus demonstrates a lack of openness and willingness to engage in rigorous public debate over the best course of action. Thus, this decision lacks the kind of input and transparency that our University community would expect to see.

We call for the University Senate along with Chancellor Syverud to undertake a dialogue about what this change will mean for sexual assault survivors. We also ask Chancellor Syverud to consider all the perspectives and multiple views surrounding this topic, including those contained in the April 2014 U. S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, Section E3: “Confidentiality and a School’s Obligation to Respond to Sexual Violence”http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/. We call for this public dialogue to unfold this summer and fall among interested parties and invite the Chancellor to join this conversation. Shared governance is at the heart of what it means to be a university community, and we look forward to an opportunity for discussion and debate on this crucial issue of supporting sexual assault survivors.

Sincerely,

Members of the Women’s Concerns Committee of the University Senate:
Lori Brown (co-chair) Judith Meighan
Carol Fadda-Conrey Eileen Schell
Martha Hanson (co-chair) Margaret S. Thompson

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