Penn State board warned of negative impact of sexual misconduct, briefed on new initiative



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HERSHEY, Pennsylvania — An administrator who led a task force that recommended Penn State change how it handles sexual assault and misconduct told the school's trustees on Friday allegations about a fraternity's secret Facebook page illustrate the need for more work to address the matters.

Vice president for student affairs Damon Sims said at a board meeting in Hershey that there may be no more high profile or incendiary issue in higher education today than sexual misconduct. A search warrant disclosed this week indicated police are investigating the Penn State chapter of Kappa Delta Rho over online postings of nude or semi-naked women asleep or passed out.

Sims said the matter shares themes with other sexual misconduct issues on other campuses, bringing news coverage he called "deeply embarrassing for our university community."

Legal liability and damage to the school's reputation, Sims said, are sufficient reasons for the board to continue to work on the problem.

But he added that the "very human cost" of sexual misconduct to students "should compel all of us to do better than we have in response to this vexing issue."

The university's Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment released a set of recommendations in January to make a set of changes to how Penn State handles sexual misconduct, including setting up an office with an investigator and handling disciplinary matters outside the traditional hearing process.

The report said that during the last school year, 24 students at University Park and one elsewhere in the Penn State system reported sexual misconduct.

Sims' talk to trustees in Hershey focused on that report, but he also fielded their questions about efforts to address drinking and barriers to simply kicking out students who engage in serious misbehavior.

Sims said the school's disciplinary system aims to change behavior and to make improvements in the lives of the young people who make up its student body.

"We have to remain committed to our disciplinary process' focus on education, as opposed to punishment," Sims said. "I hope we will sustain that commitment."

He said the task force welcomed a "bystander intervention proposal" that would encourage all members of the Penn State community to act when they see problems.

As for problem drinking, Sims said the school has had some success with efforts to combat it, and noted there is evidence a large percentage of victims and assailants in campus sexual assaults had been using alcohol.

"The truth is we've been engaged in the alcohol problem around here since the beginning of time," Sims said. "It comes with the territory."

Police say their investigation into the private Facebook site is continuing. No charges have been filed, and leaders of the off-campus fraternity Kappa Delta Rho have not commented on the scandal.

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