A message about sexual assault at UAF

To: UAF community 

From: interim Chancellor Mike Powers

Re: A message about sexual assault at UAF 

Tonight, the UAF Student Activities Office will host a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which focuses on sexual assault on college campuses and universities’ responses, or lack thereof, to this national epidemic.

I watched the film last week in preparation for sharing some information about this issue with the campus community. As I watched, I felt a profound sense of sympathy for the victims. I felt justifiable anger at the college systems that failed these victims. I felt outrage at the ignorance and callousness of college communities that excused these acts or turned a deaf ear. 

Universities across the country have not done right by their students. UAF, in some respects, was no different.

Like so many universities, our reported sexual assault statistics have been so low as to be implausible, especially when we know that sexual assault is so prevalent in Alaska. Our police department has investigated the complaints it received and forwarded charges when warranted. Our university staff members have offered victims services. But, for years, we failed to follow our own student discipline policies for the most serious violations of the student code of conduct: assault, burglary and rape. We investigated reports of rape, and often took informal action like removing the accused from dorms or campus. But, until recently, students were not being suspended or expelled for sexual assault, or for any major violation of our code of conduct. 

That is not acceptable and sends the wrong message to victims and perpetrators of this heinous violence. It also fails to provide the process mandated by university policy. I am deeply sorry for how our lack of action affected our students and their friends and families. As the brother of someone who was similarly violated 40 years ago, I am incensed that our communities still have not adequately dealt with this opportunistic and cowardly behavior. It’s time for this to end. 

It’s time for our community to come together and make it clear: Sexual violence is not tolerated at UAF, not in our community, not anywhere. Silence is not expected. It breaks my heart to think that our inaction may have created a culture where silence was the norm, where the concept of the university disciplining perpetrators was foreign.  If it’s proved that you rape on our campus, whether you are criminally prosecuted or not, you will face formal sanction by this university.

UAF is, at its core, a community of good and compassionate learners.  Since last year, when we became aware of inconsistent disciplinary practices related to these egregious acts, we have made great strides in handling cases of sexual violence fairly, consistently and conscientiously, and in a way that affords due process to those involved and offers a wide range of services and support to victims.  

That’s not enough.

We, like so many other universities, lost our way and are finding our path forward. This week, I ask all of you to band together to help advance a culture of support, caring and safety.  

Please come watch “The Hunting Ground” with me tonight at 7 p.m. at Schaible Auditorium. If you can’t make it, download it and watch it at home. If you are in Fairbanks or North Pole, please join me and other university leaders—students, faculty and staff—Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Wood Center Multilevel Lounge for a town hall meeting to discuss ways to strengthen our march forward. If you are at one of our rural campuses, I will be visiting your communities in the coming weeks to join in similar discussions. And if you are a survivor of sexual violence and need help now, please visit this page for a list of resources: www.alaska.edu/equity/title-ix/compliance/ 

We are ready for courageous change. Let’s make it happen together.