College Continues to Revise Title IX Policy: New Initiatives Focus on Sexual Misconduct Prevention
Issue   |   Wed, 09/24/2014 - 02:47

The Office of Student Affairs announced on Sept. 11 that another student has been expelled from the college for committing sexual assault. This marks the second expulsion for sexual assault since the introduction of a new sexual misconduct policy in spring 2013. Administrators say that the college is taking new steps this academic year to increase transparency of Title IX policies, make the complaint process more accessible and educate the student body about their Title IX rights.

Title IX, a component of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Following a series of nationwide controversies on campus sexual violence, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights began conducting investigations of specific colleges. An official list of 55 schools under investigation, including Amherst College, was released this past May. The Office for Civil Rights has not yet released the results of its investigation. However, a comprehensive report on investigative results from Amherst’s Title IX team is scheduled for release in early October. Amherst, as one of the first schools to release such a report, is coordinating with other schools to clarify and refine colleges’ relationships with Title IX.

“We’re working with what is now a fairly extensive group of Title IX coordinators not just in the region, but across the country, that are all on listservs and chats and all kinds of stuff to say ‘Here’s what we’re doing on our campus,’” said Dean of Students Alex Vasquez. “And you sort of try to think of best practices in that way.”

Among the spring 2013 policy changes was the creation of a sexual misconduct hearing board responsible for determining the verdict and charge of the offense.

“The hearing board is charged with determining whether a student is responsible for the alleged misconduct,” said Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl. “If a hearing board does find a student responsible, it is also charged with determining the appropriate sanction, and evaluates numerous factors in doing so, including the evidence it received and the nature of the offense.”
According to Frankl, each hearing board is composed of specially trained persons outside of the college, mostly from the five college community.

Each member receives comprehensive training on the college’s sexual misconduct and honor code policies, trauma and how it affects individuals impacted by sexual misconduct, as well as how to receive and review evidence in an open-minded way.

Moreover, new counseling infrastructure has been put in place for both complainants and defendants — an issue which was a flashpoint in the college’s sexual misconduct policy controversies.
“My role regarding the early, pre-hearing stages of an adjudication is to provide complete and equal explanations of procedures and opportunities,” said Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards Dean Gendron. “I will attempt to reduce anxiety that a participant may feel as a result of encountering a new and unfamiliar process. Interpersonal violence matters are very often inherently sensitive and traumatizing, and my role is to reduce any added friction that a participant’s progress through an adjudication might cause.”

The Title IX team has also been working to develop broad-based education and prevention measures aimed at changing campus culture and understanding of Title IX. One key initiative to this end is the new “Here’s How We Can Help” pamphlet that was mailed to every student a week ago.

“We’re really excited about this pamphlet,” Frankl said. “It’s the first opportunity that we’ve had to really do a broad Title IX messaging across campus.”

The pamphlet serves several purposes. Accirding to Frankl, it explains “what the Title IX team does here at Amherst, and makes sure folks in the campus understand that we’re really here to help, and we’re here to help connect people in need with resources.”

The pamphlet explains how students can contact different types of medical, legal and investigative support systems available both on and off campus.

In addition, the pamphlet defines behaviors prohibited under Title IX, including sexual violence, misconduct, rape, assault and stalking.

“We wanted to make it clear that there is certain type of conduct here that is unacceptable, and make that explicit,” Frankl said.

Furthermore, sexual respect education, spearheaded by sexual respect educator Amanda Collings Vann, has focused on prevention initiatives that aim to change the culture surrounding sexual assault and violence.

Vann said her focus is on bystander initiative training.

“We know that when we have students who are willing to be active bystanders when they see incidents of sexual violence and sexual disrespect, it sends the message that that type of behavior is not OK at Amherst,” Vann said. “It’s not something we are going to tolerate on our campus.”

Brief bystander initiative training was giving to incoming students, and the athletic department has asked for bystander training for all its teams this fall.

“We had done a couple last year for the the football team, the hockey team, the lacrosse team, at their requests,” Vann said. “We’re doing all of [the teams] this year.”

Additionally, Vann has partnered with the the Center for Women and Community and the college’s Women’s and Gender Center to provide support to both perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence.

Support initiatives for perpetrators aim to help perpetrators understand and prevent further acts of sexual violence. Support for survivors aims to provide continuing therapy and rehabilitation through workshops focused on body movement and art therapy.

Vann said she hopes that sexual respect education will be an “inherently positive” force, capable of impacting campus culture and the culture of the greater community.

“A sexually respectful community means that we have a community that does not have sexual violence,” Vann said. “Our ultimate goal as our students graduate and move out into different careers, different countries, different parts of the U.S. perhaps, is that they’re bringing with them this idea of what it looks like to have a sexually respectful community, which will ultimately help to shape our national policies, and will hopefully create safer spaces on campus.”

As the college’s Title IX and sexual respect policies continue to develop, a Title IX review committee is also forming to reflect on current and past policy and to improve the college’s Title IX compliance efforts.

The committee will include four students, two faculty members, two center directors, Frankl and Vann, with the college’s General Counsel Lisa Rutherford as chair.

“The review committee will serve a few different purposes,” Frankl said. “But certainly one of them will be to receive highly redacted information about closed cases, and be able to take a look at the way our policies and processes are being implemented, as a way to make recommendations if necessary on what we could be doing better.”

In the coming weeks, the first annual memorandum from Frankl will be released, providing more information about the resolution of sexual misconduct cases since January 2012. The report is expected to be released in October.