In an email sent on Sept. 22, President Valerie Smith assured students, faculty and staff that college IX policy would remain in effect despite the rescission of Obama-era guidelines for college investigations of sexual misconduct, which was announced earlier that day by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
New interim guidelines will let colleges and universities set the standard of evidence in student sexual assault investigations, according to U.S. News. Smith emphasized that while the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and 2014 Q&A will be nullified — policies that require colleges to use the lowest standard of proof when adjudicating sexual assault cases — Title IX itself will remain in full effect. She affirmed that Swarthmore policies will continue to demonstrate the principles of the college and will not be altered to match the shift in national policy.
“Swarthmore College remains wholly committed to upholding equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination and harassment. Our college policies … are based on our own values and reflective of law, guidance, and best practice,” Smith wrote.
Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate Nina Harris echoed Smith’s statement, asserting that Swarthmore would not change its standard of evidence required to find an accused student guilty of sexual assault and that the college makes policy decisions according to its own values.
“What you may see change is the level of commitment and investment at some institutions [that] were only acting under government pressure. This has never been the impetus nor basis for our work here at Swarthmore,” said Harris.
According to Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, the Title IX office reviews its policies routinely every summer. The Sexual Harassment/Assault Resources and Education (SHARE) website, on which the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy is outlined, states that over 30 adjustments have been made since 2013.
“Swarthmore is committed to providing a fair investigation and adjudication process and our annual reviews provide an opportunity to assure that we are staying current with any new laws, Department of Education guidance, best practice, and community feedback,” Williamsen said.
One 2013 adjustment Williamsen highlighted was a shift in the college’s model for adjudicating student-student sexual assault cases to one that is overseen by an external adjudicator. According to the SHARE site, one adjudicator is a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice who has experience in cases involving sexual violence.
“The external adjudicators are well trained and experienced, and the college felt that the use of an external adjudicator … provided more privacy for the parties since the case would not be heard by a panel comprised of campus community members,” Williamsen said.
Janice Luo ’19 suggested that the Title IX office respond to the changes to national guidance by being more transparent and visible.
“I think that a lot of students aren’t actually informed on how Title IX works or how it is utilized at colleges … maybe the first step of the office is to clarify to the students what their role has been and what their values are,” she said.
Luo, who is a member of the recently appointed Ad Hoc Committee on Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Life, described the committee as one of several spaces on campus that seeks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students despite potential threats incurred by changes to national policies.
“I think it’s fitting … that we’re creating this extra measure for students and faculty to make our space safe, sort of like a countermeasure to the Trump administration and things like Title IX [changes],” Luo said.
Interim Title IX Fellow Raven Bennett works closely with Harris to organize workshops, events, and training sessions on topics such as bystander intervention and supporting survivors. She said that the Title IX staff will continue to plan and host these events in spite of changes to national policy.
“We are always organizing these events with the aim to prevent sexual violence or support survivors. Regardless of any changes in Title IX, we will continue to provide programming with that aim,” Bennett said.
She urged members of the community to attend a new training series centered on sexual health and violence prevention topics called Training Tuesdays.
“I highly recommend that community members attend these trainings because it is on all of us to strive to make this community a safer, more inclusive place,” Bennett said.
In her email, Smith summarized the college’s commitment to violence prevention, safety, and inclusion.
“The college recognizes that all who live, work, and learn on our campus are responsible for ensuring that the community is free from discrimination based on sex or gender, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct. These behaviors threaten our learning, living, and work environments; we are actively working towards fostering a violence-free community,” she wrote.
The Title IX office will inform community members of any additional changes to national Title IX guidance or policy.
While the future of Title IX on college campuses is uncertain, Swarthmore says it will continue to enact policies that reflect principles such as equality and fairness.