Introducing Kaaren Williamsen, Swarthmore’s New Title IX Coordinator

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.

Kaaren Williamsen, Swarthmore’s Title IX Coordinator, is one of the college’s newest administrators and has been met with a wave of positive feedback from the student body. Williamsen came to Swarthmore in July after serving as director of the Gender and Sexuality Center and Title IX deputy coordinator at Carleton College for 13 years.

“I feel like a first year student in many ways,” Williamsen said, “I’m really just trying to learn the place. I had to learn the basics, like how to make a phone call. Where do I get coffee? I haven’t been new in a place in a long time, and so it was humbling and it was a refresher.”

Williamsen’s office is currently in the north wing of Parrish, but will move to a house on Fieldhouse Lane later this month. Her move into the new office was delayed when a tree fell onto the building earlier this year, damaging the roof. Despite this setback, Williamsen remains optimistic about her new space. When asked about her vision for the office, Williamsen said, “I hope to have a lot of resources, and a lounge space, and a conference room space, so that it’s a comfortable space to be in.” Williamsen acknowledged that discussions about sexual misconduct are often uncomfortable, but she wants her office to be “as welcoming and as warm and as calming as possible.”

While moving into her office and creating a welcoming space is one of Williamsen’s short-term goals for her time at Swarthmore, she outlined four main areas she hopes to improve upon in the long-run: Title IX policy, the adjudication process, fostering a supportive community, and sexual violence education and prevention.

Acknowledging that federal Title IX guidance and best practices around the country are constantly shifting, Williamsen thinks Swarthmore’s Title IX policies should be a “living, organic document” that reflects what is best for the community as a whole. Williamsen believes the end of each school year is the most logical time to reexamine current policies, but she hopes to reflect on the policy at the end of the fall semester as well.

In terms of adjudication, Williamsen hopes to create a clearer system with built-in support systems for students who are going through the process, due to its stressful nature. While the adjudication process is outlined in detail in the student handbook, she hopes to create an easily-understood flowchart that will walk students through the reporting to the adjudication process.

Williamsen was especially passionate about developing “dynamic, robust comprehensive sexual violence prevention education.” She plans to educate students about bystander intervention, enabling them to feel empowered to intervene in potentially dangerous situations.

In addition to teaching students about being active bystanders, Williamsen hopes, along with Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Nina Harris, to create opportunities for them to learn about what healthy relationships and consent look like. She stressed that one cannot assume that every student that enters Swarthmore knows what a healthy relationship is, how to obtain and give consent, and how to have conversations around these topics. Ideally, Williamsen said, this training “goes all year long, and not just for your first year” but acknowledges potential difficulties in implementation because “it’s hard for really smart students to acknowledge they don’t know something.”

Williamsen has asked many of the students she’s met with  — including RAs and fall term athletes — both what they dislike about Swarthmore and how they hope to see these things change moving forward. “I think we’ve gotten a lot of information, and people will still talk about what isn’t working and what people don’t want here, but I also want us to get really creative about what we do want. Because this is a really smart and talented community, and this place can do whatever it sets its mind to.”

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