An email sent to Oregon State University students and staff by President F. King Alexander in November has raised questions and concerns from the local community about sexual assault and how it’s being handled–or not being handled – at the university.
The email came after a USA Today article revealed that Louisiana State University had mishandled sexual misconduct allegations against members of the university’s football team during the time that Alexander served as
president for LSU.
In the message, later published as a press release, Alexander wrote, “I write to remind you that each of us have a personal and shared responsibility to contribute to an Oregon State University community free of sexual
misconduct and harassment.”
Alexander urged students and staff to immediately report allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. He also shared that he has been in contact with members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to discuss concerns about higher education and changes recently made to Title IX regulations that created barriers to reporting.
Alexander included resources in the email, citing OSU’s Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Health Services and the Ombuds Office.
In response to the email, a student came forward with her concerns regarding OSU’s ability to handle sexual assault cases.
Senior photography and art history undergraduate student, Ana Pearse, whose artwork mainly focuses on sexual harassment, assault, abuse and rape culture, initially had high hopes upon receiving the email, but she was
left slightly disappointed.
“I was hoping that they would actually be addressing these issues and potentially making changes that would help our school,” Pearse said. “But, as I read through it, I was kind of running into some issues.”
Her first issue with the statement was this specific quote: “As your president – and as a parent of three daughters – I am committed to policies and efforts that prohibit and seek to end sexual misconduct, violence, harassment and discrimination.”
“It kind of rubbed me wrong for a couple of different reasons,” Pearse said. “Just because you’re a parent of three daughters, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you support survivors of sexual assault. You know, I’m not saying in any way that Alexander isn’t supporting survivors and stuff like that, I just mean more so, you know, bringing that up in the conversation didn’t necessarily feel like it held any relevance to the topic.”
She continued, “I think that the tricky thing when people bring up that they have sisters, or that they have a friend who was sexually assaulted… is that people start to think that the only reason you can care about the topic, or the only reason you can advocate for survivors and things like that is if you know somebody, or if you have a connection to it, which isn’t the case at all—or I don’t believe it should be.”
Her second issue arose from this quote: “Oregon State University has a long history of addressing sexual misconduct and providing support resources and going forward, this university will advance such efforts.”
Pearse said, however, “A lot of the people I’ve talked to, it seems like it’s quite the opposite.”
Pearse said that resources such as SARC, CAPS and the EOA are well-equipped to handle sexual misconduct cases “to an extent,” but they are not where they need to be for the number of students attending OSU.
When she went to CAPS for sexual assault support, Pearse was told not to go to SARC. Other survivors have been told this too, according to Pearse.
Sahana Prasad, the Interpersonal Violence Services Coordinator for CAPS, who is a social worker and is trained as a sexual trauma therapist, said in response to this, “I’m so sorry and disappointed to hear that this has been some students’ experience, and I want to say clearly that this does not at all reflect the values of the program I lead. While I will not speak for any of my colleagues and would never deny the lived experiences of any individual student, I will also say that I myself have never discouraged any student from seeking advocacy at SARC and in fact frequently recommend that we all work collaboratively.”
Director of SARC Becca Williams responded to the concerns students have as well.
“We work diligently to meet with survivors, coordinate their care, and provide high-quality advocacy services to every survivor we are in touch with,” Williams said. “There is no wait time for appointments, no limit to how many appointments survivors can have, and no cost for any of our services.”
Prasad said the employees at SARC are her trusted colleagues, and the two programs work closely to support sexual assault survivors.
“As a center, CAPS has an excellent and robust relationship with SARC, and that relationship allows us to very frequently and confidently refer students to one another,” Prasad said. “Our strong collaborative partnership is one of the many strengths of what survivor support looks like at OSU.”
SARC supports survivors in multiple ways, according to Williams. The program is confidential, services are provided in English and Spanish, and it provides academic accommodations. It also provides financial aid offers through the Survivor Fund, relocation options if a survivor is living in an unsafe environment, medical advocacy and accompaniment, emotional support and referrals and accompaniment during reporting and filing restraining orders.
Pearse clarified that though she has concerns about SARC, she does not believe its issues are the fault of the employees who work there. She pointed to short-staffing and a general lack of resources instead.
Williams said even though SARC is able to meet the current need at OSU, “We are working tirelessly to seek out more funds and institutional support to be able to hire additional advocates in a way that reflects the school’s population, the varied needs of survivors on campus, and our commitment to health equity.”
Prasad said she is very proud of their survivor support program, but there is room for improvement in the area of resources at CAPS as well.
“I cannot understate the importance of institutional and community investment in building capacity at offices like CAPS and SARC—we, and more importantly OSU survivors, could always benefit from increased capacity and more resources, especially as we continue to work to center the needs and experiences of survivors at the intersections of multiple marginalized
identities,” Prasad said.
Pearse said the EOA also seems to lack resources.
“The people working there [EOA] are doing amazing things, and I think they do genuinely care about the people they’re trying to help,” Pearse said. “But I think the issue that’s coming up is that while these people care, the departments in general, aren’t receiving enough resources.”
Pearse believes more funds need to be allocated to the resources that seek to help survivors of sexual violence for OSU to be a safer, more supportive environment.
Additionally, Pearse said she would like to see OSU take quicker, more effective action against perpetrators. For some of the survivors she’s talked to, their perpetrators were sooner put in jail than suspended or expelled from the university.
Students and staff, however, can do their part as well.
“I feel like students and faculty, students especially, supporting survivors and being there for them [is important], instead of victim-blaming and victim-shaming. I think that’s a really big issue in our society in general,” Pearse said.
Prasad agreed, “In regard to how the rest of the OSU community can support survivors – those of us who do this work often talk about cultivating a culture of care. What that means is that we show up for our friends when they share experiences of trauma with us—we believe them, we don’t ask prying questions, we don’t victim blame, we offer them resources without telling them what to do, we respect their choices, we validate them, we’re patient.”
Williams also referenced a “culture of care” and added, “There’s so much we can do as a community to make our environment safer. This involves a commitment and curiosity at all levels, including from those who hold power on our campus. It would look like addressing issues around violence prevention, masculinities, and consent in all of our departments and in all of our interactions, ensuring that SARC and others who work with survivors have the ability to grow and build capacity and relationships, and understanding the barriers that survivors face within our campus community so that we can collectively uplift the survivors we know and love.”
According to Prasad, to make our communities safer, it’s necessary to dismantle harmful power structures like racism, transphobia, sexism, capitalism, ableism, fatphobia and more.
Williams agreed and added that it’s necessary for the OSU community to support and listen to survivors who are also impacted by marginalization and discrimination.
“As a campus community, we all need to examine the ways in which we can create a trauma-informed environment that holistically supports survivors, and that actively centers the expertise and experience of BIPOC [Black and Indigenous People of Color] and LGBTQ+
survivors,” Williams said.
The IVS team at CAPS, according to Prasad, “offers supportive, trauma-informed, survivor-centered individual and group counseling. We aim to provide empathetic, non-judgmental support to all survivors, across identity and experience. Survivors seeking support at CAPS are never placed on the waitlist and are connected to support as quickly as possible—this often includes connection to other campus resources like SARC.”
At SARC, “Our work is survivor-centric, meaning we prioritize survivor needs, choice, and healing,” said Williams. “This also means that survivors decide how they would like to move through their healing process, and we follow their lead. We know that trauma impacts folks differently, and we are here to support survivors regardless of when or where their trauma occurred.”
The bottom line, according to Pearse, is, “believe survivors when they tell you their stories and support them.”
To learn more about counseling or to set up an appointment with a CAPS counselor, students can call (541)-737-2131, fill out the the online consultation request form, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.