Officials with Emma Willard, a private boarding school in Troy, New York, spent time with reporters this afternoon to outline the school’s new policies on protecting students from sexual harassment and providing support to survivors of assault. The rollout of the new policies comes after allegations shook the school last year — and while campus sexual assault has become a national issue.
Emma Willard is acknowledging that there have been past incidents of sexual abuse on campus. Notably, last year, a woman came forward with allegations that she was sexually assaulted while a student in 1998 by her then-coach.
That incident was settled out of court.
But in the following months the Troy girls’ school has tried to show its students and the community that it is committed to safety.
Head of School Dr. Susan Groesbeck sat down Thursday to guide reporters through the policy most recently updated in December.
“The well-being of our students past and present is so important to us, but really what we’re establishing is the future of school. The things moving forward will be a conscious decision about how we do our everyday life,” said Groesbeck.
The so-called Healthy Boundries Initiatives include a new sexual harassment policy, revised student and employee handbooks, and an enhanced code of conduct. It comes after what Groesbeck called a “complete audit” of the safety of the school population and takes into account input from students, parents and alumni.
There will be some differences for incoming students going forward.
Shelley Maher, Dean of Students and Well-Being at Emma Willard, explained that all students were informed of the changes.
“So for all of the freshmen, that was the first time that they had that experience and we will continue to do that,” said Maher. “So that’s one example. I’ll take health classes for example, where we’ve continued to spend more and more time around creating a safe environment, looking at healthy relationships. We’ve got students who spend time with our boarding and day population. I think spending some more time with parents, too.”
The school has also forged a new partnership with Culture of Respect ,a program formed in 2013 out of nationwide concern over campus safety from parents of college-age students.
Emma Willard is the first high school to participate in the program that’s already working with 13 colleges nationwide. Working with the school, Culture of Respect crafted a 60-day action plan on training, prevention, and communication with stakeholders.
Thomas Crossen is a parent of an Emma Willard grad and a member of the school’s Core Leadership Team, created as part of the partnership with Culture of Repect. Crossen said he became involved after hearing his daughter and friends discuss the school and safety last year.
“They felt safe here, they felt that people, the staff, everybody was concerned about it and was looking out for them. And that made my wife and I feel very comfortable, and over the four and a half years that I’ve met all these people and worked with these people, I just piggybacked on how she feels. Because I feel they aren’t just here to educate, they’re here to protect them and protect them grow and look out for, unfortunately, sexual assault,” said Crossen.
In the past year, Emma Willard has also invited Troy police to come discuss sexual assault with students.
Emma Willard officials said they could not discuss historical allegations regarding sexual assault, but said an external investigation is under way and that a thorough report will be released.