College Changes Title IX Process, Overlaps of Responsibility Loom

Editor’s Note: On Dec. 6 at 2pm the sentence “An example of this shift would be for a respondent found responsible for breaking policy facing expulsion from the school to instead attending trainings to try to remedy their behavior” was changed to “An example of this shift would be for a respondent found responsible for breaking policy facing punitive measures from the school to instead being held accountable by the community while working to repair harm” to more accurately reflect O4S’s demands.

 

Administration officials who work in the Title IX Office have overlapping responsibilities within and outside the office that could leave both complainants and respondents in uncomfortable positions. Currently, administrators in positions like Violence Prevention Education and Advocate Hillary Grumbine, Director of Residential Communities Isaiah Thomas, and Dean Michelle Ray heavily interact with students independent of their respective Title IX responsibilities.

These concerns about overlapping responsibility arose last spring, when members of Organizing for Survivors brought concerns to the administration and student body about issues in both staffing and procedures within the Title IX Office. In response to these concerns, President Smith and other stakeholders met on May 10 with O4S core members to discuss the demands, which addressed the position of former Public Safety Officer and Title IX Investigator Beth Pitts, the duration of the appeal period, adjudication policies, and various concerns about conflicts of interest. Though the college has implemented some of these procedural changes, few structural changes have been made.

In the seven months since those policy meetings occurred, Dean of Students Liz Braun resigned from her position, Dean of Student Conduct Nathan Miller was removed as a Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Bindu Jayne became the new Title IX Coordinator, the school began to offer breaks during hearings, and witnesses were given case managers to keep them updated on hearing proceedings and to protect their rights during their testimony.

When an instance of sexual violence occurs, the complainant may speak about it to whomever they choose, but if they speak to a mandated reporter, which is the majority of faculty, administrators, and Resident Peer Leaders, the mandated reporter must report the incident directly to the Title IX Office. Many times students who have experienced sexual violence are sent to Violence and Prevention Educator and Advocate Hillary Grumbine, one of the few confidential resources on campus, to receive support and advice on what their options are.

Grumbine, however, is one of the primary individuals who serves as a complainant case manager. Case managers are meant to provide resources and support services throughout the process. This could become an issue for students who interact with her in both this capacity and her VPE capacity.

Regarding a potential overlap of responsibilities, Grumbine explains, “Should that happen, however, we discuss things in our initial meeting, and I reiterate that anything said prior is confidential and that at any point in our meetings for Case Management, should they wish something to be confidential we can pause and discuss things as their VPE rather than their case manager.”

Grumbine implies that at times during a meeting, a student may have to abruptly stop to switch between confidential and not. She also indicates that the burden of ensuring confidentiality is put on the student.

The primary case manager for respondents currently is Dean Michelle Ray, who also serves as Dean of the Senior Class. This highlights another instance of role overlap in the Title IX Office where someone who has a large amount of interaction with students also handles cases.

The use of an external investigator in Title IX proceedings was introduced after Beth Pitts, formerly the Public Safety Director of Investigations, was promoted to the legal department. O4S included Pitts’ resignation in their demands last year, claiming that she had mishandled Title IX case investigations. In an all-campus email sent on Sep. 28, Title IX Coordinator Bindu Jayne indicated that this change may be temporary and that the college would eventually initiate a search for a new internal investigator. According to Jayne, who is currently on parental leave, external investigators come from Title IX backgrounds and many have connections to her.

“A pool of potential external investigators is pulled from recommendations from other colleagues that work in the Title IX space, firms that we know have experience in the TIX investigatory area, or investigators I may have worked with at previous institutions,” Jayne wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “This pool of potential investigators is then vetted to determine whether they would be appropriate for a role at Swarthmore based on their experience, training, and references.”

The specifics of what firms these are and what the vetting process is remains unclear.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Title IX Coordinator makes a determination alongside a dean who handles student conduct on whether or not there is enough information for the adjudication process to begin.

Within the adjudication process, which determines whether the respondent has violated the Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy, there have been multiple changes — namely the removal of Dean Miller from the Deputy Title IX Coordinator position and the duration of hearings themselves. Previously, Dean Miller attended hearings with the charge of advocating on behalf of students’ rights and ensuring adherence to procedures. Now, Director of Residential Communities Isaiah Thomas has taken the role. Some students who called for Dean Miller’s resignation, such as O4S core member Morgin Goldberg ’19, welcome this despite the fact that it is another case of role overlap in the Title IX Office, as Thomas has a large amount of interaction with the entire student body.

According to Goldberg, the presence of a different advocate would have changed how her hearings went.

“If Dean Miller were not in the room, and someone else who was empowered to intervene in inappropriate questions were there instead, I would imagine the experience would’ve been completely different,” Goldberg wrote in an email. “So when the adjudicator first started interrogating me about ‘whether or not it was just a bad hookup’ or questioned me (against policy) about my ‘lack of active resistance,’ hypothetically now someone who is not Dean Miller [would be] stepping in.”

In addition to calling for Dean Miller’s resignation, O4S asked that there be a witness case manager to advise witnesses on their rights and update on them on the hearing process. Allowing witnesses to consult a case manager is now part of the adjudication process.

“I hope the witness coordinator is actually keeping witnesses safe and ensuring their rights to privacy, as the policy now states,” Goldberg wrote. “That would’ve made my life a lot easier, given how they treated my witnesses in the adjudication and also violated their confidentiality through introducing them to the respondent’s witnesses.”

The Title IX Coordinator chooses the external adjudicator, whom the complainant or respondent  can contest if they feel there are any biases or conflicts of interest. The adjudicator then considers all of the information pulled together by the investigator and decides whether or not there has been a violation of school policy. The adjudicator can also meet with the investigator, complainant, respondent, and any witnesses that have been identified. At no time during this process do the complainant and respondent have to be in the same room, including during meetings with the adjudicator. They can, however, bring their advisor, case manager, or support person. Once all information has been gathered, the adjudicator begins deliberations.

After both parties receive the decision of the adjudication, they have five days to send in an appeal — a change from the previous three days.

During this process there are interim measures that both parties can pursue. The college lists “change of student’s College-owned housing; and assistance from College support resource staff in completing housing relocation” as an interim measure that can be used at its discretion. However, some complainants have encountered difficulties obtaining these changes. One student spoke to the Phoenix about an incident in which they feel a contact restriction was mishandled.

“During the spring, I discovered that my assaulter’s room for the coming academic year would be very close to my own, where I’d been placed as a residential peer leader — far too close for comfort,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous. “So I sent an email to Title IX and asked if they could follow up on their promise. Not only did the [contact] restriction fail to come into effect until the beginning of this semester, [but] when I asked almost five months later about the status of my request only to find that the office had somehow lost or forgotten about it, I was told that the only thing that the office was capable of doing on my behalf was the equivalent of ‘asking nicely’ for this individual to move.”

This alleged lack of follow through could remove the option of housing changes for some who would seek that support.

“The Title IX Office believed me, or at least they claimed to, enough so that they were willing to launch an investigation. But when I needed them, they failed me. Their promises were empty. They gave my assaulter a choice; but it’s not like I had any choice in the matter of my assault,” the student continued.

The process for imposing disciplinary actions on respondents who the adjudication finds responsible for policy violations has remained unchanged since last semester. Currently the model is punitive, but O4S is calling for a change to a model founded within the principles of transformative and restorative justice. An example of this shift would be for a respondent found responsible for breaking policy facing punitive measures from the school to instead being held accountable by the community while working to repair harm. O4S has also called on the college to switch the Title IX process from a hearings-based model to an investigative model. An investigative model would rely on finding information during the investigation rather than the hearing.

The college has delegated responsibility for researching these more extensive reforms to the Title IX Transition Team, which President Smith formed in June.

Though President Smith invited members of O4S to apply to this team, those members hoped the team would make more progress toward these reforms. As of now, the Transition Team has only met once since its inception, and there is not a clear timeline as to when it will meet again.

Shelby Dolch

Shelby Dolch '21 is from Montana and intends to special major in Political Science and Black Studies with a second major in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is most interested in the areas of criminal justice reform, human rights, and domestic policy.

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