Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

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Breakfast for Progress

President M. Duane Nellis engages with University leaders during the first Breakfast for Progress event.

Photographer: Evan Leonard

Jenny Hall-Jones

Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones addresses participants during the event.

Photographer: Evan Leonard

Breakfast for Progress participants

University leadership and faculty discuss sexual misconduct prevention at the Breakfast for Progress.

Photographer: Evan Leonard

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Ohio University leaders engage in critical conversations at Breakfast for Progress

Sexual misconduct selected as first topic in series

Within the first few days of the fall 2017 semester, Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis called upon leadership to address the very important national issue of preventing campus sexual misconduct. More than 120 leaders from every facet of the University’s shared governance structure convened for nearly two hours to develop a plan of action to address this issue and enable Ohio University to emerge as a leader in this critical national dialogue. 

Dr. Nellis conveyed to the group that this is a priority for his administration through his opening remarks. 

“As leaders at Ohio University, we face many complex and challenging issues. In addition to being role models, we should be models of our professional behavior overall,” said Dr. Nellis. “I would like to see us being a leader in the nation in this area. We need to foster a safe and supportive environment, preventing sexual misconduct. By working together to leverage our collective experience, expertise, and knowledge, I believe we can identify solutions that position Ohio University for continued pursuit of excellence.”

Dr. Nellis introduced Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones, who provided context for the dialogue by sharing self-reported data from Athens Campus graduate and undergraduate students collected in the spring 2016 campus climate survey. The voluntary survey generated responses from 1,350 students, or 6.9 percent of the 19,459 students who received the survey. Dr. Hall-Jones shared the hope for a more robust response in the next survey round and added that students on regional campuses will also be surveyed in the future. 

Dr. Hall-Jones shared that faculty and staff sexual misconduct would be the focal point of the morning’s conversation, given the concerning response related to this issue in the 2016 survey. For example, of the 280 graduate students responding to the survey, 8.2 percent reported having experienced unwanted sexual advances by faculty and staff. Of the 169 students of color who responded to the survey, 9 percent reported having experienced unwanted sexual advances from faculty and staff. In contrast, of the 1,420 Caucasian students responding to the survey, 6.4 percent reported having experienced unwanted sexual advances by faculty and staff.  Dr. Hall-Jones shared that one of the recommendations shared in the survey data report was to review our current policy, training, education and prevention efforts directed toward faculty and staff. 

Executive Director of University Equity and Civil Rights Compliance and Title IX Coordinator Sara Trower explained that the University needs to establish a baseline of understanding for faculty and staff related to appropriate professional conduct when working with students. She said the newly acquired online training module that will be required of all OHIO faculty and staff starting this fall will educate faculty and staff on sexual misconduct and relationship violence and establish a shared baseline of knowledge for all faculty and staff. 

“We need to build a culture of respect within the community,” Trower said. “The vast majority don’t engage in exploitative conduct, but in order to build a culture of respect we need to hold not only ourselves accountable, we need to hold others accountable as well. When these issues occur, beyond the consequences that impact the survivors, there are larger consequences. For units, sexual misconduct negatively impacts employee morale and it erodes confidence in us as an institution because we are all judged by the conduct of that outlier.” 

Hall-Jones established ground rules for participants. Participants at each roundtable discussed a series of four questions related to the topic of sexual misconduct by faculty and staff. Questions were arranged so that each question was given consideration by at least a few groups in the room, allowing for a variety of responses for further consideration. 

The groups reported on their discussions to the larger group, resulting in a series of considerations. Themes ranged from appropriate social media engagement between students, faculty and staff, providing opportunities on campus to participate in scenario-based training, review of handbook policies to ensure language for professional boundaries is clearly articulated and engaging mentors for introducing topics that sometimes make for difficult conversations. 

“It is really enlightening to me that there is interest in this topic,” said Graduate Student Senate President Maria Modayil. “I believe this is something we as a University take seriously. To include students in the process is greatly appreciated.”

Katherine Jellison, a professor in the Department of History was also pleased by the day’s events.

“This was a necessary event,” she said. “People in leadership roles need to be reminded of the importance of this issue and it needs to be communicated across the University.”

All comments were recorded, and a team will be evaluating them to help determine next steps. 

Dr. Nellis closed the event with a commitment to continuing the dialogue. He said, “This is just the first step. We need to continue the conversation within our individual units.”

President Nellis plans to continue the Breakfast for Progress series with a second, yet to be announced event, later in the fall semester.