Administration Clarifies Sexual Misconduct Policies at Campus Discussion

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

A clarification of federal Title IX legislation issued last April, which bans educational institutions from discriminating on the basis of gender, forced the College to implement changes to its sexual misconduct policies. Student Council hosted a campus discussion on Thursday to discuss these changes in collaboration with Beth Kotarski, director of Worth Health Center, Sharmaine LaMar, director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX coordinator, and Patricia Fischette, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselor.

President Rebecca Chopp, Dean of Students Liz Braun, and newly appointed Director of Public Safety Michael Hill were also in attendance.

“When you think of Title IX, what do you think about? You think of sports,” said LaMar, who described herself as the “point person” for investigations of sexual misconduct on campus.

“What [the clarification] said is that Title IX is not just about sports, not just about gender equity, but also about making sure educational institutions don’t discriminate against students on the basis of sex in terms of sexual harassment, and that educational institutions cannot ignore claims of sexual misconduct,” she said.

LaMar explained that the clarification requires the college to investigate every allegation of sexual misconduct on campus. But because it is unclear about how to reconcile this requirement with a student’s right to privacy, the College has “carved out” additional resources which are able to deal with these issues confidentially.

“These confidential resource personnel have a state-recognized privilege of confidentiality because of the positions they hold at the College. All other college employees who are sought out as resources have an obligation to share the allegation with the Title IX Coordinator,” LaMar said in an email.

“If a student doesn’t want to go through a formal process, or just isn’t ready to, there are still lots of options,” said Kotarski.

LaMar, Kotarski and Fischette presented students with a diagram outlining the sexual misconduct resources on campus, indicating those that are required to report allegations and those that are confidential.

Fischette and Kotarski said that student resources such as the Sexual Misconduct Advisors & Resource Team (SMART) will play a crucial role in educating students about which advisors are confidential and which are not. Dean Braun also said that the college will improve its online sexual misconduct resources and add a discussion of sexual misconduct issues into the new student orientation schedule.

One point of confusion in the new policy concerns the role of RAs, who are obligated to report every allegation of sexual misconduct they receive to LaMar. Dante Fuoco ’12, an RA in David Kemp, said that many RAs were initially “confused and anxious” about this role.

“We assumed that not being confidential meant not being a meaningful resource to students,” he said. “I didn’t want to start my first meeting with freshmen saying: ‘I just want you to know that I’m not a confidential resource for you guys.’”

“To be honest, you were probably picking up on some of our own anxiety, because it was a moving process this year,” said LaMar. “But we’ve gotten to a place where we feel much more comfortable about this.”

LaMar offered to host another discussion with RAs to clarify their role under the new policy.

Braun added that the difficulties of implementing the Title IX clarification are not unique to Swarthmore.

“There has been national confusion on exactly this point,” she said. “We [Braun and LaMar] would literally sit there with the letter and try to tease it out. We went to a legal issues conference where everyone was discussing the letter, interpreting it in different ways. So I appreciate the student body’s patience on this issue.”

“We didn’t want this letter to, in any way, discourage students’ ability to report,” she added. “That was one of our primary concerns.”

Once an allegation is brought to LaMar, she begins a formal investigation of the allegation. “The first step is making sure the complainant is safe,” she said. “Even if the reporter of the incident has not reported complainant’s name, we need to make sure we’re providing for their safety. What is their current condition? Are they in the same class as the accused, the same dorm, etc.?”

LaMar then develops an investigation plan and gathers information to “get as clear a picture about the incident as possible.” The final investigation report can then be brought as evidence in College Judiciary Committee (CJC) adjudication procedures.

Responding to a student question about why sexual misconduct cases brought to the CJC are not posted publicly in Parrish alongside other cases, Braun seemed confused.

“They should be,” she said. “That’s something we’ll change,” added LaMar. Braun added that the policy makes no distinctions among the CJC cases. She said she thought her office had been copying CJC reports to the Daily Gazette and the Phoenix, but representatives of both papers pointed out that they have not received any reports.

LaMar sent an email to students on Sunday evening outlining the College’s sexual misconduct policies and providing links to sexual misconduct resources. The email also noted that the College has set up an Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee, which will assess and make recommendations on the current policies.

Correction: The article originally stated that the RAs “are ‘confused and anxious'” about their role, while Dante Fuoco ’12 said at the meeting that they “were initially ‘confused and anxious'” about their role.

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