Swarthmore’s Title IX Team Conducts Public Briefing, Minor Substantive Changes Addressed

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.

On Tuesday, September 22, Swarthmore’s Title IX team organized an information session and Q&A to review the modifications made to the college’s Title IX policies.

The Title IX team includes Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller, Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Nina Harris, Associate Director of Investigations Beth Pitts and Case Manager and Grievance Advisor Michelle Ray.

The US Department of Justice defines Title IX as the comprehensive federal law that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.”

Signed in 1972, Title IX’s original intent was to ensure equal access to athletics at educational institutions, the DOJ states. However, Swarthmore’s Title IX Coordinator Williamsen affirms that while legislation is fundamentally the same, the interpretation has evolved since its passing.

“Title IX still assures equity in sports and other educational programs,” Williamsen wrote on the Office of the Title IX Coordinator webpage, “but it has also inspired a new wave of comprehensive sexual misconduct policies.”

To adhere to this “new wave” of policies, Williamsen says that the team reevaluates the policies every summer before the academic year to ensure that all clauses align with “Swarthmore’s ethos and are compliant with federal guidelines.” Modifications are also made regularly to compensate for Swarthmore’s shifting demographic within the small proximity of its campus.

The policy itself is partitioned into three different sections: the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy, student procedures, and faculty/staff procedures. This year, minor substantive and organizational edits were made to the introduction and student policies handbook for ease of readability; the faculty and staff policies underwent no changes.

The introductory section was altered after members of the community expressed concern with vague definitions that necessitated clarification.

Williamsen explained in the public briefing that in the updated 2015-2016 handbook the terminology is more “gender and sex inclusive” and also clearly outlines what qualifies as “intentional sexual contact” under the Title IX policy. Other specifications in sexual harassment language include the addition of the “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment” clauses in the introduction.

“Quid pro quo” is defined in the handbook as the “any action in which […] submission to conduct of a sexual nature is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s education, grades, recommendations, opportunities or employment,” while a “hostile environment” is a place in which certain conduct “has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance.”

The updated version also clarifies the roles individuals may assume in the event that a complaint is filed. These include the “reporting person,” “complainant,” and “respondent.”

Student policies were condensed slightly to clearly “define procedural information and eliminate redundancy” in a format that is “easier to digest,” Williamsen added.

On-campus efforts offer a wide array of workshops dedicated to prevention education and restorative self care.

Harris held an “Introduction to Meditation” seminar on Thursday, September 24 at the Women’s Resource Center. Also, Mike Dormitz will be conducting a presentation entitled “Can I Kiss You?” on Thursday, October 8, at 7:30 pm in the Lang Performing Arts Center. He will delve into a “revolutionary approach […] insuring person’s boundaries are respected,” according to an email sent to the Swarthmore community.

The Title IX team also hosts its annual Open House on Tuesday, September 29 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Title IX house across the street from the Matchbox.

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