Striving for Change at James Madison University

By Jonathan Alger|

As a father, as an attorney who has dedicated much of his career to working on civil rights issues, and as president of James Madison University, I care deeply about the issue of sexual assault.

While JMU and other colleges and universities across the country have been working diligently for decades to prevent sexual assault, provide services to victims and punish perpetrators after appropriate due process, the topic catapulted into the national spotlight in recent months. We are now in the midst of an elevated national discussion about the societal issue of sexual assault and its impact on every college campus. This is good. But the discussion needs to be informed by critical thinking and problem-solving skills — and by balance. In some instances this summer, media and social media reports have been sorely lacking on that front. We have sometimes seen a rush to judgment and finger-pointing based on incomplete or inaccurate information. That is not how to solve the problem of sexual assault on our campuses or in society. We must all work together to be part of the solution and also to understand and respect the rule of law and due process.

alger-and-goodlatte-walkingThe college experience is one of hope, excitement, intellectual development, and personal growth. Ensuring that this experience is available to each and every student requires universities and colleges to provide the safest campus possible. Our focus on the safety and well-being of our students helps them to thrive. James Madison University is a caring and compassionate community — and the responsibility to address these issues falls on all of our shoulders, not just at JMU, but in our society.

In fact, within the last few days, JMU joined many other colleges and universities in Virginia supporting Governor McAuliffe’s announcement of a statewide sexual assault task force. JMU appreciates the Governor’s leadership and support in dealing with this important topic. We believe that we can make great strides by working together across institutional lines to share ideas and best practices. We can and will learn from one another. Take a look at this recent story by the Washington Post about this ongoing work in Virginia.

James Madison University has a great deal of experience and innovative thought to bring to the table. We have a significant number of established educational programs and support services that enhance the safety and well-being of our campus community. Here is a link to some (but by no means all) of the existing programs on JMU’s campus.

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This past week at JMU we welcomed 4,300 incoming freshmen to our campus. We delivered the message loudly and clearly to these new students about our expectations for student conduct, and that every member of our community can and must play a role in dealing with the complex issues surrounding sexual assault. The freshmen orientation includes mandatory sessions that address this topic. Also, I have been encouraged that the students, staff, and faculty leadership with whom we’ve met have all agreed to work together on this topic — understanding that we all have roles to play. In fact, I discussed this in my back-to-school message that was sent to all of our students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. Here is a link to that message.

Every member of our community can and must play a role in dealing with the complex issues surrounding sexual assault.

Of course, there’s still much more work to be done. The efforts of NO  MORE and other organizations are essential to increasing national awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. We are pleased to partner with NO MORE in these efforts and before this summer’s headlines, JMU had already started work to create this public service announcement using the toolkit provided by NO MORE.

If we all take responsibility, work together, and share ideas with one another, I believe now is the time when we can and will make significant progress in dealing with this important societal issue.

Jonathan R. Alger,

President, James Madison University



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