S.M.A.R.T team adjusting to Title IX

(Patrick Ammerman for The Phoenix)

Deans and faculty members must now report cases of sexual misconduct, but those at Worth can still act as confidential resources. (Patrick Ammerman for The Phoenix) 


Last April, a letter written by the United States Department of Education informed schools that Title IX guidelines around issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment will be held to new standards. Now, it has been put upon Swarthmore’s administration and student groups adjust to the new standards.

“[The letter about] Title IX was a really a good opportunity for colleges because I think colleges, especially like Swarthmore, think ‘we’ve thought this through, we’re doing this pretty well,’ but this is saying look again,” said Beth Kotarski, Director of Student Health Services. Kotarski now in charge of sexual assault response on campus. She is also now is in charge of Swarthmore’s sexual misconduct advisors & resource team (S.M.A.R.T) and is liaison for Swarthmore’s sexual health counselors.

Dean Karen Henry, who was the primary administrator working with these student groups last year, had been transitioning into her new role as class dean of first-year students. According to Kotarski, the administrators were mindful of the new Title IX policies when making that decision. “The deans office really wanted to do was to create a space where students could go that would still seem like a confidential space that didn’t feel like it was in the dean’s office.”

Policies about confidentiality when reporting instances of sexual misconduct are one of the biggest changes addressed in the Department of Education’s letter. “If you report an issue of sexual misconduct to faculty members, members of the deans office, college staff members, coaches … they’re all responsible for reporting that incident to our title IX coordinator,” explained Ariel Finegold ’13, who is a member of S.M.A.R.T. team as well as a sexual health counselor. According to Finegold, the Title IX coordinator then handles each reported incident on a case-by-case basis.

The information provided by the reporter of the incident may be used to carry out an investigation, but Kotarski stresses that this investigation should not be confused with the negative connotations the word can imply. “When claims are made and the college is aware of it, students need to be able to report it and the college then needs to have the complete responsibility to make sure that they investigate … it just means that we need to evaluate the situation to make sure that we remedy it, and that we’re making the campus and the survivor as safe as possible,” Kotarski said.

Swarthmore groups such as the S.M.A.R.T team and sexual health counselors have been discussing how to cope with the implications of the new Title IX policies, and have been using the discussions to create broader changes in how Swarthmore handles sexual assault. S.M.A.R.T team last year was meant to provide students with resources, including trained students and faculty members to whom they could turn for help with sexual misconduct issues. “This year … we are trying to do [our job] in a different fashion — being more proactive on campus,” said Lisa Sendrow ’13, a S.M.A.R.T team member.

S.M.A.R.T team members are adjusting what they do in response to what many see as underutilization of their resources among the student body. “Survivors’ issues and sexual assault are kind of deteriorating on this campus and not as many people are as interested as we thought there would be,” Sendrow said.

The S.M.A.R.T team’s postering last year, which advertised the names and contact information of trained students and faculty, seemed not to reach a large number of students, so members want to make the group more visible on campus.

“We want to reach students where they are instead of having them always come to us for questions because we’re finding, more and more, people aren’t coming us us … so we’re working on outreach,” Finegold said. The group hopes that events, such as a sex fair, speakers brought to campus and cake, condom and cinema nights will help bring more bring students to their events.

The S.M.A.R.T team also hopes to improve its availability to students who may need its assistance. Having a S.M.A.R.T team member “on call” to talk to students and providing quicker answers to emails are two improvements the group hopes to make.

“We want to really update our anonymous e-mail line, so people who have real questions can email us anonymously and get answers back from Swatties that are educated instead of getting information online which might not be right or not be from the right sources,” said Finegold.

The main purpose of these groups remains to create a safe place for those with questions about sexual misconduct to turn to.

Sendrow says she sees S.M.A.R.T team as a means “to help people … have more resources, become more aware of themselves and try to see themselves as stronger as well because a lot of survivors think its their fault and not a lot of people know how to respond [to them].”

The administration and these student groups want to ensure that the college is doing all it can to prevent sexual misconduct and to create a safe environment for survivors of it. Anyone who has questions about the changes to title IX or about the resources Swarthmore offers can email swatshc@gmail.com.

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