Joseph Abrams ’23
Four years ago, a movement across students and alumni rattled the campus and brought a long-needed period of reflection back to the hill. Most of those students, if not all, have graduated by now and assimilated into the ranks of the alumni that joined them, though their efforts continued to play out as the school searched for a proper way to move forward. Now, with the release of the long-awaited report on the sexual harassment and misconduct committed by two faculty members, a foundation has been laid from which to look ahead.
The report comes from a selected committee, the Cozen O’ Connor Institutional Response Group– a subsect of the Cozen O’ Connor law firm that you may recognize from the email updates on the investigation. The key word of this investigation was independent. Despite working at the approval of a handful of current Holy Cross faculty and board members, the firm maintains that the investigation was conducted with utmost autonomy: “Our observations, findings, and recommendations are wholly our own, reached without interference or direction by the College.” In addition to the extensive document review that the Institutional Response Group did, the group met with more than 75 students, staff, faculty, and alumni in conversations that spanned over 60 years of Holy Cross experience. To supplement their investigation, the group also turned to similar events playing out across the nation: as Holy Cross students began speaking out against James Christie and Christopher Dustin in 2018, the now-terminated faculty members accused of sexual misconduct, universities across the country were confronting their own buried or mishandled histories of sexual violence.
These faculty members, however, weren’t the subject of this specific investigation. As student sit-ins and responses received from the Institutional Response Group show, distrust in Holy Cross’ proceedings and ability to handle instances of sexual misconduct were shared among the student body. Thus, the IRG’s work focused largely on the “cultural, structural and organizational factors that contributed to faculty sexual misconduct”, specifically outlining institutional failures that supported an environment where misconduct could occur. Notable findings from the IRG include an inadequate system to monitor the activities of current faculty, the absence of clearly defined professional boundaries, and certain “gaps in supervisory structures and oversight mechanisms that allowed individuals to operate outside the lines of normal supervisory structures.” “Lack of centralized reporting” was also an emphasized part of the inadequate reporting practices, alongside some school departments that were plagued with “bullying” and unprofessionalism.
Yet, in order to create a safer and more responsive school community, the IRG provided a systematic approach to create the “hopeful path forward” President Rougeau referenced in his most recent email. All of those steps can be found in the original report, along with the inadequacies described previously, though there is specific focus on both preventative work and the establishment of better reporting procedures. The IRG believes it’s essential for all members of the school organization, including staff, faculty, and board members, to engage in responsible, safe, and beneficial outreach to bring trust back to the school’s processes. The Title IX office has gone through a heavily transitional period in the time since faculty sexual misconduct reports were first filed in 2018, which the IRG found to be specifically problematic concerning their investigation. The quick turnover between Title IX chairs had made the office a not-so-stable resource for struggling students. Suffice it to say, the College has already made strides in recent years to support the office with new resources and a more streamlined reporting process.
The report ends on a note of gratitude for the student and alumni survivors that came forward to help them in their review, which President Rougeau also referenced in his own email after the report wrapped. Rougeau expressed his gratitude for the extensive work the IRG has done, especially as it informs a better, more safer Holy Cross moving forward.
So what’s next? A new Recommendation Implementation Committee will be appointed by President Rougeau in the coming weeks, which will work on a transparent and effective way to implement the IRG’s recommendations succinctly.
Resources can be found below for any student in need of help on campus:
Counseling Center: 508-793-3363
Chaplains’ Office: 508-793-3012
Class Deans: 508-793-2530
Public Safety – Routine calls – 508-793-2224; Emergencies: 508-793-2222
Student Affairs, Deans Irish & Murray: 508-793-2414
Title IX and Equal Opportunity: 508-793-3040