Important Title IX Update

Editorial Note: On Monday, President Smith sent a letter to the Swarthmore community with the title “Important Title IX Update.” This letter follows in the wake of recent demands delivered by the student organization, Organizing for Survivors. The text of President Smith’s letter, which was initially published on the college’s website, is reproduced below. Though President Smith is listed as the author of this article for clarity’s sake, neither she nor any member of the College administration requested the publication of this letter in The Gazette.

A Letter from President Smith

To the Swarthmore community:

Since my arrival at the College, I have been impressed by the passionate commitment members of our community demonstrate in their efforts to make our campus and the world beyond it more just, fair, and equitable. Let me begin by thanking the members of O4S for sharing their letter with me and with the broader College community. I am committed to working with them and their allies to bring about the changes necessary to meet the needs of our diverse community of students, faculty, and staff and to ensure that our campus is safe and violence-free for all.

In preparing my response, I have been governed fundamentally by a desire to respect and honor the experiences of survivors, to be fair to all parties involved, and to respect due process.

As you read through this update, please contact me, or any member of the Title IX team, if you have questions or suggestions.

The following actions are completed, underway, or will be undertaken by the College in the near term:  

Title IX process

Students, faculty, and staff may make Title IX reports to any member of the Title IX team, including the Deputy Title IX Coordinators, who will now hold weekly office hours.

We understand that lengthy investigations and adjudication processes increase anxiety and stress. The College therefore commits to ensuring processes that are fair, equitable, thorough, and free of unnecessary administrative delays and postponements. To that end, we will strive to complete the Title IX complaint process within sixty days from the point when a complainant formally files a complaint and requests a formal process.

Please be aware that on occasion other factors contribute to the length of time it takes to complete a case. For example, students and their witnesses receive every opportunity to provide information related to each case. We also give participants the opportunity to review the information they have provided and to make corrections and provide additional information as needed. Often, we must build in time to conduct additional interviews in order to further clarify information or facts that are in dispute. This level of thoroughness takes time and depends upon the availability and responsiveness of participants. To minimize uncertainty, we will provide regular updates to students during the Title IX complaint resolution process (including weekly updates for students who prefer them). We will also offer witnesses the name of a case manager who can respond to their questions about the process.

We cannot promise that interviews will be completed within a specific timeframe; however, if an interview lasts more than two hours, we will continue to offer participants the opportunity to resume the interview process either after a break or at a later date.

We will create a pool of external adjudicators for the student adjudication process who have both the experience and sensitivity to navigate these complex cases with skill and great care. We will not hire individuals, including retired judges, who lack this level of experience and sensitivity. I will participate in the screening process for candidates for this position.

The range of sanctions for sexual assault and harassment is included in the current student conduct policy. The general process for returning to campus can be found in Section 8.5.3 of the College Bulletin, but additional conditions or expectations may be outlined in a student’s conduct outcome letter. Consequences for violating contact restrictions can be found in the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy under Section IV. Interim measures D. Failure to comply with interim restrictions.In certain instances, students might request or even mutually agree to a contact restriction on their own, but the College does not require the person who caused harm to agree to a contact restriction before the restriction is imposed.

Education, Training, and Feedback Mechanisms

First-year orientation includes both in-person activities and an online component focused on information and discussions about healthy relationships, relationship violence, alcohol and other drug awareness, building a campus community, consent, campus support resources and sex positivity programming, as well as additional conversations led by RAs, among others, about Title IX. Once hired, the permanent Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate will enrich this programming and supplement it with ongoing efforts that are sensitive to the needs of all students.

We will increase training for faculty and staff to heighten awareness of Title IX issues. The trainings will clarify how they should respond if they learn of a Title IX complaint or if they are themselves subject to sexual violence or harassment. We will make visible the training details for all relevant staff and ensure that such trainings are trauma-informed and sensitive to the needs of all students.

All CAPS therapists are currently trained in trauma-informed survivor support as well as Title IX policies, processes, and identification of key resources. The CAPS website is undergoing revision and will include information on the counselors’ clinical training by the beginning of Fall semester.

We will work with students to create a communication mechanism that will allow them to provide feedback on their experiences with the Title IX process on a voluntary basis. This may take the form of conversations with the Title IX Coordinator or another member of the Title IX team, and/or completion of an anonymous online form.

Earlier this academic year I initiated an external review of the Dean’s Division. I expect to receive the external review committee’s report later this spring. Once I have received the report, I will share an overview of the recommendations and my preliminary response to them.

Last year, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) initiated a formal accreditation process through the International Association of Law Enforcement Administrators. This process includes an external review of all DPS policies and procedures, as well as an analysis of whether DPS is following best practices. An executive summary of this report and its recommendations will also be made public.

Requirements for Residential Peer Leaders

We have clarified the requirements for student residential peer leaders. Residential Peer Leaders must be able to fulfill their responsibilities and serve as positive role models for residents, which also means they must meet the expectations of their position and abide by the Student Code of Conduct. Effective immediately, to be considered for employment and to serve in any type of residential peer leader role, including RAs, DPAs, SAMs, and GAs, students must be in good standing. A student is not in good standing when the student has been found responsible for a student conduct policy violation and as a result is serving a sanction of  probation, suspension, or expulsion as defined by the Student Handbook.

The College is unable to take the following actions:

The College cannot provide an attorney to complainants or respondents. The decision to obtain and select legal counsel is a personal one and should be made independently of the College. Title IX team members inform students that they are entitled to have an advisor of their choice, including an attorney if the student wishes to have legal representation. We provide a list of off-campus legal resources (including pro bono resources) within the Resources section of the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy.

The O4S letter mentions imposing certain restrictions on alumni or respondents in the midst of a student conduct process, in the absence of or before an outcome has been determined. As a general matter the College cannot prevent individuals who have been “identified as a respondent” from pursuing leadership opportunities before their complaints have been resolved. Nor can we deny invitations to all alumni “who have had complaints made against them” if those alumni were not found responsible for violating College policy. We must continue to preserve our commitment to due process and constitutional norms.

Personnel matters are confidential both by law and by practice. I remain committed to finding the best staff to support our students and have established high expectations and performance standards.

The following actions will require additional consultation and/or research by the College:

Title IX Staffing

Searches are currently underway for the Title IX Coordinator and the Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate. We expect to complete both searches by the end of the academic year.  The Title IX Coordinator Search Committee (which includes three students) will host a community conversation on Wednesday, March 28 from 4-5 p.m. in the Scheuer Room; survivors and allies may share their views more privately if they prefer to do so. The Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate Search Committee includes five students; this committee will also invite input from the broader community.

Additional Policy Changes

Once hired, the Title IX Coordinator will immediately conduct a review of a number of the policy changes called for in the O4S letter and recommend necessary changes, such as shifting to a different resolution model or returning to a longer appeal time frame. A process already exists for student re-enrollment, but the new Title IX Coordinator will evaluate whether we are properly addressing the underlying behavioral issues when assessing a student’s return.

Greek Life

I agree that the College must undertake a more in-depth, focused discussion of the role of the fraternity houses and of Greek Life culture on campus. The Ad Hoc Committee on Well-being, Belonging, and Social Life considered this issue, among others, this year, but I am asking them to focus on it primarily and specifically during the 2018-19 academic year. As O4S observes, this important question requires additional community input and consultation and warrants a “thorough, formal, and transparent” process; I will invite the entire College community to participate in the conversation around this issue.

For Faculty Consideration

I will refer to the Provost the recommendations related to TAs and to notations on official transcripts or student records. Once the faculty has reached a decision on these matters we will update members of the community.

A final word

I remain deeply committed to continuing to improve Swarthmore’s programming, processes, and policies related to sexual assault and sexual harassment. Further, we must enhance programming focused on building healthy relationships. Together we will continue to strive towards our goal of a violence-free campus where all community members can thrive. I look forward to working with all members of the community to build the type of inclusive, healthy environment that embodies our highest shared ideals.

 

Sincerely,

Valerie Smith

President

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