Ohio State dissolves Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit
National expert engaged to develop leading model to serve students
The Ohio State University announced today that it is dissolving its Sexual Civility and Empowerment (SCE) unit based on an external review. The university has engaged nationally recognized experts Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie M. Gomez from the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor to help create a redesigned, best-in-class model to support victims of sexual assault, and conduct a thorough evaluation of the broader Title IX program.
SCE was suspended in February 2018 amid concerns that it was not properly supporting victims and was mismanaged. An external review was underway at that time. The review, received on May 28, indicated that SCE had failed to properly document and report information regarding some sexual assault complaints by students.
Cozen O’Connor’s work includes two objectives. First, they will work with Ohio State to develop a new student-support program. Its goal will be to emulate national best practices in this evolving and complex arena. The university will have the changes in place before the beginning of the fall semester. Second, they will assess compliance and recommend enhancements to the university’s policies, procedures and practices related to sexual- and gender-based harassment and violence under federal law.
“Ohio State will do all that we can to be a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” said President Michael V. Drake. “Our campuses must be safe places for all members of our community to learn, work and grow. We remain steadfastly and unwaveringly committed to this goal.”
“Providing critical support for students, faculty and staff while maintaining compliance with state and federal standards is an evolving, complex challenge,” said Maisto Smith of Cozen O’Connor’s Institutional Response Group.
The finding that SCE may have failed to comply adequately with policy requirements covers a range of incidents; some appear to have occurred off campus or even in other cities; others occurred days, months or years before the survivor was enrolled at the university. But other incidents were not reported to police or to the university in a timely fashion. Ohio State policy requires all employees to report incidents of sexual assault — and state and federal laws mandate reporting of specific crimes on or near university campuses, including sexual assault.
The university has engaged a team of independent auditing specialists to assist with an extensive, continuing review of SCE files to ensure that Ohio State has fulfilled its obligations to report certain offenses to law enforcement, federal regulators and other authorities.
Ohio State began examining SCE in February 2016 with a human resources review through the Office of Student Life. A pair of subsequent independent reviews focused on structural and reporting issues. Each review recommended further investigation. The May 28 review offered additional information that led to the university’s decision to dissolve SCE.
These reviews contain confidential information that, if released, would compromise student privacy, victim privacy and attorney-client privilege. Ohio State did release today nearly 200 pages of other records, including employee personnel files and written complaints.
The records reveal several complaints, including allegations from an outside agency that call into question standards of care and victim support at SCE. The records also include evidence of the strong support SCE received from scores of students who saw great value in its services. Its suspension was met with a letter of support signed by 58 student organizations and a resolution passed by the campus-wide Undergraduate Student Government. The university continues to investigate these and other matters and will reach out to students who have been in contact with SCE to ensure that they have received all necessary support services.
SCE was opened in 2015, the year Ohio State launched a comprehensive prevention and support effortto combat sexual misconduct and relationship violence and ensure fairness in the process used to review allegations. This larger effort, involving students, faculty and staff, remains in place. The university maintains an extensive system for providing student support and services, including the Counseling and Consultation Service, which offers individual and group mental health services, including trauma response; the Student Advocacy Center, which helps students access university resources and navigate processes; the Student Wellness Center, offering prevention and education programming; and Student Health Services, offering medical confidentiality and support.
Additionally, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) is a confidential resource and maintains a 24-hour crisis hotline. The Mount Carmel Crime and Trauma Assistance Program provides specialized professional assistance to victims of crime and trauma.
“This is an immensely important issue, and Ohio State is committed to having the very best systems in place to support and protect our students, faculty and staff,” said Bruce A. McPheron, executive vice president and provost.