cw: This article discusses sexual assault.
Thursday at 4:15 p.m. counselor Nicki Keller, Title IX Coordinator Andrea Goldblum, Deputy Title IX Coordinator Linda Smolak, next year’s Interim Title IX Coordinator Sam Hughes, and the Sexual Misconduct Advisors facilitated a somewhat tense Title IX forum in Gund Gallery’s Community Theater.
Keller kicked off the conversation by outlining the objectives for the discussion:
- Open, respectful and sensitive discussion of Title IX, the Title IX process, the kinks in the process, and how the community can proceed to improve the process.
- Discussion of prevention education, and how the Kenyon community can facilitate better communication and dialogue between administrators and students.
Small vases of flower arrangements lined the theater. Sally Wilson ’12, who grew up in Gambier, told the room that alumni from across the country, wishing they could be at the forum, sent the flowers to show their support.
Keller then opened the floor to the audience. The first question, from a student, concerned administrative accountability. Specifically, the student inquired about the amount of money allocated to the Title IX office by Kenyon, and how much of the money is utilized to promote prevention and awareness.
Goldblum responded that the office received about $300,000 in the last year, much of which has been devoted to legal fees incurred from cases. The money also covered the hiring of investigators who have “depth and breadth of experience” in Title IX cases. Other costs covered by the allocation include salaries for the near equivalent of two full-time staff members (Goldblum is the only full time staff member, while Hughes and Smolak work only part time). The office also sets aside money for posters, table tents, online programming, and ongoing training for staff.
Smolak noted that the implementation of a new policy (it was unclear if she was referring to a Kenyon policy on sexual assault or an updated Title IX policy) required additional training. She also addressed the office’s plans for next year, which she hopes will focus on prevention–she underscored that this requires student input. Hughes chimed in, stating that the office hopes to put together a “hybrid [group] of student organizations” with the purpose of gaining a representation of the widespread voices and interests of the student body.
The next comment came again from a student who noted that professors’ Title IX training seems inadequate. The student said that there seemed to be widespread confusion among faculty regarding their role as mandatory reporters under Title IX. The student also said that it seemed like professors did not take this role seriously. They stated,
One professor told me, “I’m a mandatory reporter, so don’t tell me anything.”
This year they had training on our policy and syllabus statements. I said to them, “Some of you will welcome students coming to talk to you about this. Some of you will not. What we need to convey is that students understand that you are a responsible employee and that you have to report.” Some don’t want you to come to them. They don’t want to be involved.
A faculty member added that many professors feel that they are not experts on Title IX issues, so they defer to the experts.
The student argued that if faculty members are deferring because of a lack of knowledge, there should be more explicit training.
An SMA also commented on this issue, agreeing with the above student: “Professors, like students are a vital part of the Kenyon community. You can’t expect students to take on the responsibility without faculty members doing the same.”
Citing a specific interaction with a faculty member, another student commented that Kenyon is not utilizing its professors as resources, though many have applicable expertise. Meredith Bonham tersely countered that she had just set up a meeting with the faculty member she thought the student was referring to, and as such, she didn’t really understand the comment.
The discussion turned to the role of programming during New Student Orientation. One student claimed that issues such as academic honesty are addressed with more seriousness and are prioritized over safety issues, particularly those pertaining to sexual assault. They said that we need to emphasize the importance of the Beer and Sex programming.
Next, a staff member noted that staff voices should be considered with the equal regard to student and faculty voices. They also addressed Title IX’s exclusion of LGBTQ+ voices and proposed a number of additions to Title IX, one of which was the inclusion of pronouns in the Title IX packets given to students.
Another student brought alcohol, specifically underage drinking, into the discussion:
It’s my understanding that 60% of the victims assaulted at Kenyon were assaulted during their first year.
They connected this to the fact that many students experience independence, sex, and alcohol for the first time when they get to Kenyon.
Yet another student addressed the Title IX’s programming target group:
It’s logical and in some ways productive that the discussion about prevention and Title IX training is geared towards underclassmen. But for upperclassmen, it seems that there is a big portion of the student body that doesn’t know their own rights.
An SMA suggested that the organization email links to Know Your IX, while another SMA said that the organization needed to work on visibility. A student who identified as an athlete said that athletes mostly recognize Title IX as a policy that facilitates equality in sports. They argued that it should be emphasized to athletes in programming that the policy has other implications.
Smolak stated that the Title IX office needs student input to help fix this problem. A student countered, “All we know is who we shouldn’t talk to.”
Professor Sarah Heidt ’97 commented that she could only direct students to the appropriate people when they came to her with Title IX issues. She made statements to the effect that she didn’t understand Kenyon’s party culture and why individuals’ risky drinking was the administration’s problem. From her perspective, students are responsible for their drinking. (For clarity, she later reneged on these comments, stating that she was previously a Kenyon student and therefore understands the party culture.)
A student responded:
Just because you don’t go to parties here doesn’t mean you can’t understand the rape culture on this campus.
Goldblum returned to earlier assertions that some faculty are not comfortable or equipped to address these issues. A student suggested that if professors announced that they take Title IX very seriously at the start of every first class, social pressure would be applied to students to also take it seriously.
A staff member emphasized the importance of intersectionality, and noted that alcohol and parties are not always involved in sexual assault.
A student followed up on this comment :
Professor Heidt made a comment earlier about living in Leonard when the Psi Us were there and the whole room laughed. That’s not funny. That’s not funny. Alcohol does not cause sexual assault. This cannot be underscored enough. It interacts with it. It is a systemic problem. It’s a misogyny problem. It’s a problem of institutionalized sexism that is perpetuated by the presence of sanctified all-male spaces such as fraternities and athletic teams.
The discussion turned to the judicial process. One student commented:
“Prevention is important, but we also need to look at the judicial process. Do you think the judicial process is flawed. What do you think will come from the audit happening?”
Goldblum responded, “In general, our policies and our processes mirror those that are seen as best practices.” The student responded once more,
Do they work? I want to know why over the past four years we’ve had different title IX coordinators.
Goldblum addressed her decision to leave Kenyon: “For me it’s lifestyle changes. I’ve always lived in urban spaces and at this point in my life I can’t do Gambier any more.”
The conversation returned to Title IX funding, with students expressing concern about the amount of funding and where it was allocated to. The students emphasized, “Where we spend our money shows what we care about.” Several members of the audience shook their heads and expressed disagreement, but did not speak up to address room.
Goldblum moved on to provide numbers about Kenyon’s Title IX cases from the current academic year:
- There were 18 reports total of instances of non-consensual sexual intercourse or non-consensual sexual touching
- 4 reported but did not want any further action
- 4 asked for informal resolution (informal resolution could be a no contact order, a negotiation/mediation this does not apply to nonconsensual intercourse)
- In 4 cases the respondent was not a member of the Kenyon community, or it was a 3rd party report, or the Title IX Office received a report that something happened, but there were no details about it
- In the 6 remaining cases: One defendant was found 1 not in violation, 1 was found in violation with serious outcomes, 1 was found in violation with lesser charges in the case
Smolak and Goldblum declined to further define ‘serious outcomes’ in the interest of protecting the implicated individuals’ privacy. A student followed these comments by emphasizing the necessity of protecting privacy.
A swim coach thanked the administration for their work and for helping to create the “best possible team culture.”
The discussion came to an end and Smolak, Hughes, Goldblum, and Keller encouraged students to reach out to them with suggestions and feedback.