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Chopp Outlines Steps To Combat Sexual Misconduct

in Around Campus/News by

Responding to complaints about the college’s handling of sexual misconduct and facing a federal investigation into the matter, President Rebecca Chopp recently announced a series of changes to college policies and practices. “Sexual misconduct does occur at Swarthmore and in the world at large,” Chopp wrote in an email to the community, in which she outlined the actions the college will take. “We must take strategic steps to prevent it, combat it, adhere to due process, enforce sanctions when it occurs, and provide support to survivors.”

The email came after Margolis Healy, a firm hired by the college to investigate and review how the college responds to sexual misconduct, released an interim report with its recommendations. The planned actions are widespread and vary from hiring new personnel, to a review of the role of alcohol on campus, to additional training for students and campus security authorities, which Clery defines as individuals who have “significant responsibility for student and campus activities.”

The school will hire a new, full-time Title IX coordinator to replace Sharmaine Lamar, the college’s assistant vice president for risk management & legal affairs and director of equal opportunity, who up until recently had doubled as the school’s Title IX coordinator. Some said that Lamar’s position had entailed a conflict of interest, arguing that while Lamar could be working for survivors who are bringing up complaints that could damage the school’s reputation as Title IX coordinator, she might simultaneously working in her risk management capacity to prevent the college or its reputation from harm.

Chopp however, disagreed that Lamar’s position caused a conflict of interests. Chopp argued that it was instead about keeping students and other members of the community safe. “Risk management is helping the school identify where people can get hurt. It’s not about reputational damage, at all,” said Chopp. She cited the desire to have a dedicated staffer as Title IX coordinator as the reason for the shift. “Sharmaine could not do that and do all her other responsibilities,” she said.

Lamar will stay at the college in her other capacities.

The school will also expand the number of deputy Title IX coordinators from one to four, following a recommendation from Healy that they have a deputy coordinator in the office of human resources, the dean’s office, the provost’s office, and athletics department.

While Joanna Gallagher, the current deputy Title IX coordinator and associate director of public safety will stay at the college in her later capacity, she will not remain in the former. Some students said Gallagher’s position also had a potential conflict of interest. “She’s Title IX deputy, but she’s also an investigator for public safety. So that means she’s supposed to be a third party bystander. She’s supposed to gather the information for the case and not have an opinion,” said Mia Ferguson ’15, one of the students who filed a complaint with the federal government that alleged the school violated both Title IX and the Clery act.

“But as Title IX deputy,” Ferguson continued, “she’s really supposed to be there to support the survivor.”

While Chopp refuted the idea that this was the reason Lamar’s roles were separated, she acknowledged that it was at least part of the reason Gallagher would no longer serve as a deputy, saying that the best practice for colleges “is to not have the investigators be Title IX coordinators.” She added that Gallagher’s position as associate director of public safety was itself enough work.

The college is also planning on taking a look at “the role of alcohol and other drugs in creating an environment that can contribute to sexual misconduct to create a safer social environment.” Chopp wrote that community feedback would be “vital” to this process.

What this will entail is still unclear. But Nora Kerrich ’16, one of the students on the college’s task force on sexual misconduct and an ASAP co-coordinator, said that change was likely. “There’s going to be change coming with how the college handles alcohol use,” said Kerrich, though she could not predict what the magnitude would be.

Generally, student reaction to Chopp’s email has been positive.

“I’m amazed, impressed and optimistic,” said, Hope Brinn ’15, who, like Ferguson, filed a complaint with the federal government. She added she was particularly happy the college was hiring an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

“I’m pretty pleased with Rebecca Chopp’s response to the report,” said Kerrich, who as a member of the task force received Margolis Healy’s report several days before Chopp sent it out to the campus at large. “I was very impressed with her quick response.”

Delta Upsilon released a statement saying they were “glad to see the college is moving forward with changes to help make Swarthmore a safe and fun academic environment,” and adding that they “look forward to participating in these changes, and are excited to work with Mr. Elias at the start of the fall semester,” referring to Mike Elias, students activities coordinator and the new fraternities advisor. The previous advisor, Tom Elverson ’75, who doubled as the college’s drug and alcohol counselor, had his joint position eliminated by the college, who cited a desire to separate the roles of fraternity advising and drug and alcohol counseling, leaving him without a job.

Kerrich, however, cautioned that Healy’s report and Chopp’s email did not identify everything that was necessary. In particular, she said that there needed to be clarity on what happens after a student files a report of sexual misconduct, and specificity on what the repercussions are for perpetrators.

“We don’t know what merits expulsion from the school, what merits probation,” Kerrich said, pointing out that sexual misconduct entails a broad range of crimes and misdoings. “What does it mean for someone to be charged or accused of verbal harassment of another student? What is the punishment for that?” Kerrich asked.

But she did add that the report was preliminary, and that to address issues like discipline, they would need to talk with members of the college community.

Chopp agreed. “This is an interim, so that means it’s not a final report, it’s not a complete report,” she said.

Ferguson expressed concern that the school has not paid enough attention to issues of discrimination. “The administration needs to respond to student requests for an attention to all discriminatory crimes, be they sexual, racial, class-based, or anything else. We can’t have so many administrators and not have them consider all civil rights cases.”

Chopp stated that the college was addressing those issues, just separately. “We are in the midst of working on a diversity and inclusivity report,” Chopp said, adding that she expected that report to be completed in the late summer. “Margolis Healy were never brought in to deal with every issue on the campus.”

Kerrich said that the work of the task force was limited to issues of sexual misconduct. “If you have something you want the task force to see, it has to be about sexual misconduct,” she said.

But Kerrich suggested that students could reach out to Healy about topics beyond sexual misconduct. “Title IX definitely covers a very broad range of issues when it comes to discrimination on college campuses,” she said. “Folks can reach out to Margolis Healy with issues that are not specific to sexual misconduct.”

Kerrich did emphasize, however, that students should bring their concerns, comments, and feedback to the task force — as long as they are about sexual misconduct.

“Folks should really be giving us information if they have any or suggestions,” she said. “We can’t necessarily respond to the emails we receive, but we will be looking over them.”

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