Changes in Administration Need Leadership, Not Equivocation
*Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault*
This post was guest authored by Charlie Collison ’15, a former SMA.
Like many of my fellow and former classmates, this week’s events continue to make a huge impression upon me as a recent graduate, as the sibling of a current Kenyon student and friend to many others, and as a former Sexual Misconduct Advisor. The purpose of my writing is to share information from my experience as an SMA that individuals may find useful as Kenyon’s community calls to improve the college’s policies and procedures.
In events of sexual misconduct, many survivors are reluctant to escalate their case to the federal level because they fear that they will not see a successful outcome. This apprehension stems from the fact that the standards of evidence upheld in court (guilty beyond reasonable doubt) make it extremely difficult for a prosecutor to prove that the assault took place. Additionally, survivors are more than likely aware of the inadequacies and mistreatment that commonly occur when pursuing criminal prosecution (as my former colleague Christina Franzino once eloquently addressed)
Without mincing words, it is devastating and shameful that Kenyon’s treatment of sexual assault is and appears to be as perilous as the federal system. How can we foster the community that our administration claims we have when students fear that their own school cannot protect them and deliver justice?
It is for these reasons that I echo the same questions that my classmates at Kenyon have spoken out upon, and more. Is the college upholding Title IX’s requirement to use the preponderance of evidence as the standard of finding respondents (the accused) culpable? How are investigators being trained by the college prior to formal resolutions? What constitutes their “specific training and experience investigating reports of Prohibited Conduct”, according to Kenyon’s policy? On what conditions does the college choose to appoint external investigators? How does the fact that we have had four Title IX Coordinators in the last two years reflect upon our policy? Is the newly introduced investigative model working? What is it going to take to have our institution protect survivors instead of ousting them from our community?
In Kenyon’s history of formal resolutions, respondents have been found responsible for their actions. These individuals have subsequently faced consequences and sanctions, including dismissal. I do not state this as a defense of decisions made by Kenyon’s administration; I state it only to say that the process has worked before due to the judicial abilities afforded by Title IX. And Title IX should not be mistaken as a gift we are given because of the nature of our institution. These are basic human rights that should be extended outside of collegiate boundaries into the world – no survivor of sexual assault should have to go to the lengths that the federal justice system demands of them to prove their assailant guilty.
If Kenyon’s administration is going to continue the championing of communal values and “zero tolerance”, the pressure is on them to address sexual assault and the policy used in its wake with a multi-tiered approach. It needs to be addressed with an outpouring of solidarity with survivors. It involves a rethinking of how Kenyon educates new and existing students on how sexual assault can be prevented, and how staff and faculty can contribute to that education. It prompts a critical eye towards the use of Title IX policy, both at Kenyon and nationally. It requires us to demand that Kenyon as an institution be held accountable for the verdicts of their formal investigations.
President Decatur is taking the logical first step in responding to these issues by hiring an independent firm to audit Kenyon’s Title IX policy and procedures. In a cultural climate where many college administrations avoid the reality of sexual assault, his request for a Title IX audit could pioneer action towards safer campuses. I hope that the President’s initiative will lead to a more accountable and transparent Kenyon. But I would like to highlight another issue that bears great consequence on the future of the college’s sexual misconduct policy.
The major actors in Kenyon’s formal inquiry process will all be staffed by different individuals beginning in the next academic year. Samantha Hughes, currently the Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities, will be taking over for Andrea Goldblum as the Title IX Coordinator at the end of this academic year, leaving her former position open (the college is still searching for a replacement). In formal resolutions that involve a student respondent, the Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities assumes the role of the Adjudicator. The Adjudicator influences many aspects of formal resolutions, including the consequences a responsible respondent will face. Dean Hank Toutain will also be retiring – as Dean of Students, he will have overseen appeals to formal resolutions involving a student respondent.
These three roles of Director of Student Rights, Title IX Coordinator, and Dean of Students are responsible for the majority of actions taken using Kenyon’s sexual misconduct policy. As of now, these three roles are unfilled or in transition. The lack of stability is disheartening, especially in this moment – but it can also be used as a fulcrum for institutional change. Thus, it is in Kenyon’s utmost interest that the Title IX Coordinator, the future Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities, and the future and / or interim Dean of Students will each be held to the highest levels of accountability and transparency that our community is entitled to going forward. I behoove the search committees who fill these roles to select a candidate who is equipped with a deep respect for complainants and who reflects the multiplicity of identities in our community.
In closing, I’d like to emphasize some of the crucial lines of questioning that I have seen our community members bring to light during my SMA tenure, many of which have been reintroduced this week by both students and alumni. These are the truths we all must continue to seek out and call for in unison:
Continue to let those who influence decisions regarding the sexual misconduct policy know how much you care about the outcomes. Question whether or not the Counseling Center and the Sexual Misconduct Advisors have been given adequate funding to pursue their goals. Question whether or not Kenyon needs to hire employees (aside from the Title IX Coordinator) to work with Title IX and other anti-discriminatory policies to ensure progress for Kenyon. Envision what that progress would look like.
Ask the administration how they train investigators and how they hire external investigators. Request and suggest further measures for Kenyon staff and faculty to educate their students about Title IX, VAWA, the Clery Act, and the college’s own policies and definitions. Ask how that information can be made more visible to individuals inside and outside our community. Hold tenured professors and long-term staff members accountable for knowledge about the college’s sexual misconduct policy, even if they are mandated to report misconduct.
Participate in the open revisions to Kenyon’s sexual misconduct policy and discuss the effectiveness of the investigative model. Ask for statistics on outcomes in formal resolutions and whether or not external investigators were hired. Stand with all survivors of sexual misconduct of any kind. Support these survivors, and support their supporters. We needed this change yesterday.