On Thursday, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price officially charged the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community with goals including reducing sexual harassment, sexual violence and substance abuse.
The Task Force, consisting of administrators, faculty and students, was convened following public concerns over sexism on Penn's campus. This project was originally announced last November after a sexually exploitative email was sent to freshmen by the off-campus organization OZ. Now, the goals and plans of the Task Force have been officially clarified.
"The chief sentiment is to think about the next set of ways that we can work together to promote the most optimal climate and culture for all Penn students to thrive," Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum said. McCoullum is one of the Tri-Chairs in charge of the task force along with Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush and Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein.
The task force also explicitly lays out the goal of “holding students in unaffiliated and unsupervised groups accountable for violations of University policy to the maximum degree permitted,” but never mentions OZ by name.
McCoullum will oversee a group focusing on ways to combat sexual harassment, alcohol abuse and other violations of Penn's Code of Student Conduct. Winkelstein and Rush will head groups that study student awareness of the Penn Code of Student Conduct and how violations are addressed, respectively.
The American Association of Universities released a report in September 2015 showing that Penn students were largely reluctant to report sexual assault due to feelings of shame or fear, and that they did not trust the University to be sympathetic to such reports or treat them seriously. Gutmann and Price called the efforts "deeply troubling."
McCoullum said that while she does not feel there is a significant problem with Penn's campus culture, that it could still benefit from improvements.
"We are taking up this task because of what students have told us," she said. "I do believe that the Penn community is among the strongest and richest in all aspects, including voice and diversity, than any other community. Having said that, there is always room for improvement. There is always room for growth."