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Editorial: A first step forward

On Thursday afternoon, President Christina Paxson P’19 updated the Brown community on the advancement of the recommendations of the Sexual Assault Task Force’s interim report, formally outlining the administration’s progress and implementation strategies in a number of key areas. While the task force’s interim report did indeed underscore significant progress with regard to more formally addressing the pressing issue of sexual assault on campus, this recent correspondence shows focused progress in achieving the aforementioned goal. Moreover, it does so with a degree of transparency that is paramount in collaboratively and effectively combatting the problem of sexual assault going forward.

The task force’s interim report released Dec. 16 emphasizes reforming the University’s judicial procedures in cases of sexual assault while acknowledging the inherent sensitivity of matter. The report confronts the relation of sexual assault to rape culture, as well as the important role of proper education in preventing sexual misconduct. Beyond making concrete recommendations, the task force underscored the need to bolster a system in which all Brown community members “are equally valued, respected and safe” by way of the Sexual Assault Peer Education program and potential additional training and awareness programs for students and employees alike.

In parsing through the recommendations of the 25-page report, Paxson approved and acknowledged the implementation of various initiatives, including the creation of a new Sexual Misconduct and Title IX website, the use of trained investigators in probing instances of sexual assault, and the limitation of the appeals process to no more than 30 days. Additionally, the task force will now include three new members who are especially familiar with these policies, including former Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy Bita Shooshani, bringing valuable experience to the group and giving it more credibility with the community. While difficult to gauge the eventual efficacy of these changes, Paxson’s direct and line-itemed approach undoubtedly points to a degree of progress, though not all-encompassing.

This round of policy change focuses heavily on reworking the appeals process to make survivors feel safer and more comfortable. But it largely ignores the charge to “change the culture of the Brown campus,” though in fairness the report did not call for immediate action on this front. Reacting to the University’s new alcohol policy, a number of students told The Herald Thursday that while alcohol can be a catalyst for sexual assault, it is not the core of the problem.

These new measures begin to evince the comprehensive solution that our campus needs. But these proposals are the low-hanging fruit. Justice is critical, but prevention is the goal and the former does not always beget the latter. The question is whether the University can execute on the more challenging obstacles.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Zoila Bergeron ’17, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15 and Katherine Pollock ’16. Send comments to


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