Penn's top administrators have made an open call to students soliciting suggestions on how the University can improve policies around sexual harassment on campus.
In an email, which was sent a little after 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, several of Penn's leaders, including Provost Wendell Pritchett and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, wrote that they "would like to learn more about how members of the Penn community experience our procedures specifically related to sexual harassment, how [they] suggest those procedures could be made more effective and equitable, and what [they] believe are the best practices among our peer universities."
"Creating a campus free of sexual violence and sexual harassment is one of Penn's highest priorities," the email read.
The email asked recipients to submit their "ideas and suggestions" via email to the Provost's Office by Apr. 6, adding that comments would be kept confidential.
Julia Pan, the Chair of Lambda Alliance and College junior, said that while she generally approved of the initiative, she questioned the lack of specific details provided in the email.
"What I thought was unusual was like ‘Okay say I want to send my questions, ideas, or experiences to this email by April 6, what is going to happen with that.’ Who exactly is looking at this? Is there a working group? Is there a committee? If we send it, is it just going to be a black hole," Pan said.
The appeal comes less than a month after two students at the University Council Open Forum called on the administration to improve policies concerning the reporting of sexual harassment and assault complaints on campus.
At the forum, Engineering senior Carolyn Kearney told council members that Penn does not currently do enough to ensure that students who have been victims of sexual assault are able to avoid interacting with their assailants while on campus. Kearney also said at the forum that the University has not been transparent in its rules around incidents of sexual assault.
"The reason you only hear vague statements about the failure of the process is because Penn lies to victims about their free speech rights," Kearney said. "Penn has never expelled a student for rape. Never."
A day before the University Council forum, The Daily Pennsylvanian had spoken to Pritchett about existing policies concerning sexual assault and harassment on campus. While the Provost indicated at the interview that the University did not know of substantive negative feedback on Penn's sexual assault procedures, he also said that his office had plans to solicit more feedback from students.
"I think our procedures [around reporting sexual assault and harassment] are, as [President Amy Gutmann] said, pretty good," Pritchett said in the interview on Feb. 20. "We haven’t had feedback that they are deeply problematic, so I don’t have an answer to your question about what else we’re going to do other than we’re investigating and we’re continuing to improve our practices."
Curie Shim, the chair of the Penn Association for Gender Equity and College sophomore, said she hoped the initiative would produce concrete action in light of these past statements.
“What I really hope is that they’ll take that feedback and use it to actually implement concrete measures to these problems on campus. I also kind of think its ‘too little too late,’" Shim said.
"After reading about what happened at the UC forum, and hearing that admin was saying they hadn’t really heard any negative feedback from students, it's kind of clear to me that I guess there wasn’t a large effort being made before now. That’s really disappointing because this should be one of the basic things about student life that should’ve been addressed years ago."
Earlier this year, a public survey with over 2,300 responses also revealed that five allegations of sexual harassment may have been perpetrated by members of the Penn community.
In a Google spreadsheet, one anonymous respondent said her Penn professor hugged her and caressed her neck even when she tried to break free; another wrote that "in a sick moment, [her professor] stuck his tongue inside [her] mouth."
The University's Tuesday email is similar to steps taken at other universities to combat sexual violence on campus. Two weeks ago, the former Penn Provost and current President of Duke University Vincent Price sent a similar message to the Duke community.
Price announced the creation of a "self-assessment" of sexual harassment at the university, which would ideally allow administrators to be more proactive in preventing such instances, reported the Chronicle.
Reporters Giovanna Paz and Marina Gialanella contributed reporting.