On Feb. 7, Dean Elizabeth Braun announced changes to some of the policies and procedures the college utilizes when handling Title IX cases, based on recent student feedback. Braun also shared information about the formation of a search committee for the hirings of a new Title IX coordinator and Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate.
This news comes after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced rollbacks on Title IX protections this past September. According to NBC news, these rollbacks included modifying “the standard of evidence in campus sexual assault cases.” Many advocates of sexual assault survivors believe that this new guidance would work against the accuser. However, in an email sent in September, President Valerie Smith stated that Title IX policy would remain in effect despite rollbacks.
The college’s recent changes to the existing policies regarding sexual assault cases include separate adjudication meetings for complainants and respondents, an expanded pool of external adjudicators, and a revised process for Public Safety officers to respond calls or requests for assistance related to contact restrictions. The Title IX office has regularly updated its policies each semester since its establishment in 2013.
Beyond its role in filing cases, the Title IX office is currently working to expand its role on campus through new programming, according to Lucy Jones ’20, WRC associate and Title IX liaison.
“Besides these official changes, the Title IX office is also working on improving support services and making sure that students who have experienced violence on campus are able to get the support they need, in whatever way is best for them,” Jones wrote to the Phoenix. “This includes, on one level, more campus programming from the Title IX house to increase education and spaces for support (Training Tuesdays, Me Too, You Too Postcard writing, the Healthy Sex and Relationships Initiative, etc).”
Jones believes that the larger role of the Title IX office on campus will create better modes of communication between accusers and the Title IX office, as well as improved services for students.
“There have been official changes to report policy and procedure but the office is always working on how to improve and promote support services and how to reach out to survivors in the most respectful way. This is always an ongoing process but hopefully the increased presence of the Title IX office on campus and the appointment of a new Title IX coordinator and VPE will help solidify these efforts,” she said.
For students on campus, the Title IX office remains an integral part of ensuring that students have an easier way to report sexual assault or abuse cases. The Sexual Assault Harassment Resources and Education website allows students or sexual health advocates to report cases online.
“If I hear a case, I go about reporting it through the SHARE website, either anonymously or not depending on how comfortable they feel,” sexual health advocate Mika Maenaga ’21 said. “My responsibility is to give anyone who comes to me access to the resources they need.”
According to President Smith, the college intends its Title IX policies to benefit the community as a whole in the process of addressing individual students’ needs.
“Our policies are intended to help create a community where everyone can reach their full academic and professional potential in a safe and non-hostile living, working, and learning environment,” Smith wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “When sexual misconduct does occur, we have focused our processes on providing support and options to those involved and taking the steps necessary to stop the misconduct and prevent it from happening again. Our focus is always on what will work best to support our community members.”
The Title IX office is also in the midst of a search to replace former Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen and former Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, who left the college during the fall semester. Both the search for the Violence Prevention Educator and the Title IX coordinator are influenced by student feedback.
“Based on student feedback and needs we will be searching for someone to fill this role who has expertise counseling within a trauma-informed framework and an understanding of restorative justice in sexual violence prevention education and as a response to individual incidents of misconduct,” Director of Health and Wellness Alice Holland wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “Additional qualifications include a deep understanding of cultural and social causes of sexual and gender-based violence; deep understanding of cultural, ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, and gender diversity and the ability to lead programming sensitive to the needs of all students.”
According to Holland, the search for a new advocate will begin this month and conclude before the end of the spring semester.