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University hires dean for sexual assault and relationship abuse

In an effort to complement and centralize campaigns against relationship abuse and sexual assault on campus, the University recently hired its first assistant dean for sexual assault and relationship abuse, Angela Exson.

Dean Exson previously served as the assistant director of the Women’s Leadership & Resource Center and Campus Advocacy Network at the University of Illinois at Chicago. According to Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chris Griffith, Dean Exson will work primarily with “the staff who respond to urgent and emergency student situations” as well as the Violence Against Women (VAW) grant team.

“We created the position to complement our existing prevention, education and response structure,” Griffith wrote in an email to The Daily. “Angela’s primary responsibility will be to help provide a coordinated and consistent response to sexual violence and relationship abuse.”

Exson said personal experience and passion for her field will define her role.

“I have been working in this field for over a decade, and I have both a personal and professional commitment to raising awareness, dispelling myths and engaging in honest dialogue to prevent the occurrence of these issues,” she said. “The role of this office will be to provide education and consultation regarding issues of interpersonal violence and to deliver a coordinated, consistent and effective response.”

Both Griffith and Exson individually noted that the position will be a collaborative one, meant to integrate itself within the University’s infrastructure and provide resources that fill current voids. Griffith broke down Exson’s role into three parts: prevention, education and training.

“[Exson] has served as the primary source of information and contact for faculty, staff and students and has conducted training with those constituencies as well,” Griffith added.

Viviana Arcia ’13, president of the Women’s Coalition, noted that Stanford has already taken many steps to increase awareness of sexual assault and relationship abuse issues and to develop more effective responses. These initiatives have involved the Office of Judicial Affairs, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness. Resident assistants, peer health advisors and the Survivors Group, which Arcia co-founded, completed additional training.

Because these resources often function autonomously, communication can sometimes be lacking among the campus organizations and student groups.

“Dean Exson and her office will be instrumental in providing the community with a sort of one-stop resource where students can be advised of all their options,” Arcia wrote in an email to The Daily.

As for specific issues that Exson’s office could address, Arcia offered two answers: “sensitivity training on the part of staff and campus police” as well as “campus culture.”

“Misogyny and sexism still exists at Stanford,” she said. “We can have these resources and these amazing administrators, but I feel like if more safeguards aren’t made against sexism or sexual harassment on the part of students, then we obviously won’t get to the root of the causes of sexual assault including same-sex abuse and violence against women.”

Exson echoed this concern.

“There is often a great deal of misinformation and misperception about these forms of violence that lends itself to their prevalence,” she said. “This can present a challenge in response and prevention efforts, because there may be resistance if people feel that their current knowledge and belief systems are being tested or invalidated.”

Regardless of the specific initiatives Dean Exson takes at Stanford, entrepreneurship and cooperation could prove to be the cornerstones of her work.

“Our efforts will require collaborative effort, creativity and community accountability,” she said. “I think that all of these ideals are fostered and supported here at Stanford.”

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