July 2016
Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano Philip P. DiStefano

Dear Friends,

Many of you have read about the issue of sexual assault on university campuses. One in five female undergraduates are sexually assaulted in college, according to the Obama administration, citing a poll of current and recent students conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

What you may not know is that over the last 43 years, Title IX, the 1972 federal law that requires equal access in sports at federally funded schools, also requires that schools provide equal access to education through a safe and non-threatening environment.

Consequently, institutions of higher education must provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment and investigate cases of alleged sexual assault.  

Many of these cases will work in parallel with an investigation by a police department and prosecutors. In other cases, the victim may not want to pursue criminal prosecution. Under federal law, higher education institutions must adhere to a lower standard of proof than a court of law (preponderance of the evidence versus proof beyond a reasonable doubt). The action we take when our investigation shows that level of proof can be up to and including suspension and expulsion for students, and suspension and termination for employees.

Universities and colleges across the country are struggling with how to manage this process in a way that is fair, unbiased, confidential and yet prompt for all parties.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, we are not immune from this problem. Our rates of occurrence of sexual assault are in the same range of those at other schools. However, we are determined that we will understand clearly what is happening on our campus and share that information with our students, parents, staff, faculty and community openly so that we take collective actions to lower these rates.

Our first step—in July 2014—was to hire Valerie Simons, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Education Section, where she was lead counsel on behalf of the United States enforcing Title IX and Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act in dozens of cases around the country.

Addressing sexual misconduct is a critical campus issue, and Valerie is a member of my cabinet reporting directly to me. Valerie's immediate job was to consolidate all investigator positions of sexual misconduct and discrimination into one office, while bringing the processes and university policies into alignment with best practices around the country and a step beyond. This has been completed.

Our second step was to create an education and prevention unit to implement innovative strategies intended to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, and to develop and conduct a comprehensive survey in the fall of 2015, asking students to report their experiences of sexual misconduct in order to get the information we need to take action.

Our third step has been to release the resulting survey data in two phases, as soon as they are available after analysis. The first phase of the data was released in February 2016.  More than 41 percent, or 13,009, of our students responded to the lengthy survey, giving us over 100,000 pieces of data to correlate and analyze. The preliminary release identified an overall rate of sexual assault (defined as unwanted touching ranging to what most of us would label as rape), sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, intimate partner abuse and stalking.

The second phase of data was released on Tuesday, after the additional analyses were completed. The focus of this release is to:  

  • Distinguish unwanted touching when catching the victim off guard from all other types of sexual assault
  • Determine whom victims tell about the assault and what the barriers are to reporting the assault, and,
  • Understand the place, time and perpetrator characteristics.

Our fourth step—which we are actively pursuing as we analyze and release the data—is to formulate our action plans based directly on the data we are receiving. Some of the action plans include:

  • Enhancing mandatory bystander intervention training for incoming first-year students as part of their welcoming process, and new videos for the fall semester to help all students further build skills to be effective bystanders.
  • Communicating in the residence halls, and other places, that forming agreements with roommates and friends is critical to watching out for each other and accounting for one another's whereabouts.
  • Engaging a new information campaign about where to receive support and the importance of reporting incidents of sexual assault.

Regardless of where a student attends college, campus sexual assault is a reality that needs to be strongly addressed.  For the general populace in the United States, women in the 18-24 age category are at the greatest risk of experiencing sexual assault. For more details, see a 2014 White House report on this topic

We intend to lead the way in transparency on this topic, setting standards for how we educate our community, raising awareness and taking action to reduce the incidence of sexual assault.

If you would like to learn more about this subject or what we are doing, please go to the Sexual Misconduct Survey page.


Philip P. DiStefano

Jenny Simpson with other runners on a track

For Buffs, road to Rio runs through Champions Center

We're deeply proud of the several athletes—at least 13 with strong ties to CU Boulder—who competed earlier this month in Olympic trials. Some of them have trained at the new state-of-the-art Champions Center on campus. Backed by our loudest cheers and best wishes, heading to the Olympic Games are Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn, representing the U.S., and former CU sprinter Jeremy Dodson, representing Samoa. 

Juno approaches Jupiter

Juno successfully arrives at Jupiter

A spacecraft's arrival at Jupiter on July 4 was a spangled success for several of CU Boulder's own. After a five-year journey covering nearly 2 billion miles, NASA's Juno mission—involving multiple LASP researchers, undergraduate and graduate students—slipped into the gas giant's orbit. The awe-inspiring expedition is expected to reveal much about Jupiter and its impact on the formation of the solar system. 

Elaine Prouix, Evan Harris, Christine Avena, Ben Lourie and Xi Wang

Five students, one alternate tapped for Fulbright

Once again, we have an impressive cohort of graduate students and alumni who've been picked for Fulbright awards on the basis of demonstrated leadership in their fields. They bring honor not only to themselves, but also to the CU Boulder community in their work to advance academic, social and cross-cultural understandings across the globe.