Penn State Board hears from sexual assault task force

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By Matt Maisel

DERRY TOWNSHIP (WPMT) -- As Penn State University deals with another scandal involving potential sexual abuse, a task force on sexual assault and harassment formed by its president last year provided their findings to the school's board of trustees Friday.

Vice President for student affairs Damon Sims told the board at a meeting in Hershey that sexual misconduct is one of the most high profile issues facing college campuses today. The problem has been heightened at Penn State where school fraternity Kappa Delta Rho has been accused of posting photos of nude or partially-nude unconscious women on a private Facebook page.

"The media and public attention to this issue has been swift, deep in scope, and deeply embarrassing for our university community," Sims told the board.

Last July, Sims was charged by Penn State President Eric Barron to lead a Task Force on Sexual Assault and Harassment. In January, the task force, which is comprised of students and faculty, developed 18 recommendations which were approved by President Barron. They were presented to the Board of Trustees on Friday morning, many of which focused on increased education to encourage more sexual assaults reported on campus.

"It's an issue that has so much human cost," Penn State senior and task force member Melissa McCleery said. "It's a huge part of student life."

McCleery spoke at Friday's meeting on behalf of students, representing the task force, expressing her disappointment with one board member who she felt was disrespectful during the January session.

"I have never in my life felt so disrespected and insulted by another human being," she said of the trustee, who she claims rolled their eyes during a presentation.

Some Board of Trustees members were open to dialogue, she added, and wanted to be more involved.

"You need to talk about these issues and have them be addressed by the university," she said.

"Board of Trustees included."

Sims' plan includes making sure every university employee is properly trained to handle sexual assault reportings.

Employees would be designated as "confidential" or "responsible." Confidential staff would include mostly mental health and medical professionals and could only report sexual assaults with given consent by the person confiding in them. Responsible staff must report all alleged sexual assault reportings to an official Title IX coordinator.

"The task force findings were very good," Trustee Betsy Huber said. "It's going to take a big change in mindset of employees that they are responsible. If they see something, they are responsible for reporting it."

Sims cautioned Trustees that if the plan is implemented correctly, the number of reported cases on campus will actually rise, thanks to more victims feeling encouraged to come forward.