Many students believe Pomona College’s Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault program was suspended Feb. 13 due to confidentiality concerns and a lack of adequate training. But Title IX coordinator Sue McCarthy told TSL Thursday that students reporting negative experiences with the advocates was the main reason for the suspension.
The decision, which was ultimately made by Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr and announced via email, cited “mostly confidential concerns” as the reasoning behind the change, prompting student confusion over whether the concerns were private and could not be shared with students, or if the concerns involved the advocate’s confidentiality status.
McCarthy explained that the concerns were mostly about confidential student reports of individual harm, and not with the advocates’ confidentiality status itself.
“People reported experiencing harm in connection to advocates as an individual or as a group,” McCarthy said, but didn’t specify further due to confidentiality.
In a statement to TSL, advocates spokesperson Molly Keller PO ’19 said, “We are aware of Dean McCarthy’s comments but we have not received any information about the nature of the reports and we were never contacted to discuss any concerns before the decision was sent to the entire Pomona College community.”
McCarthy said that only “one to five percent” of the decision had to do with the Advocates’ lack of training and potential issues related to the Clery Act, which requires advocate groups without proper training to report sexual assaults of which they are informed. Pomona’s advocates lacked that training, due to McCarthy’s error in scheduling it last fall.
McCarthy said Starr informed her of the suspension Wednesday — the same day the news was emailed to students.
While the decision was ultimately made by Starr, students criticized McCarthy at last week’s ASPC meeting for the suspension. McCarthy expressed frustration about her “designated” position as spokesperson for the program’s suspension.
“Ellie and I have become the face of this,” she said, referring to Ellie Ash-Balá, associate dean of campus life, who is also a member of the committee that made recommendations to Starr.
Legal concerns about confidentiality also contributed in part to the pausing of the program, McCarthy said.
McCarthy said she learned last spring through a guidance published by the Clery Center, a nonprofit that monitors compliance with the Clery Act, that advocates needed specific training to be legally exempted from the Clery Act reporting mandate.
McCarthy reached out to the advocates in June to inform them that they were no longer confidential resources, and that training through Project Sister, a rape crisis and family services center, would be held in the fall to allow them to legally operate confidentially, Keller said. But the dates McCarthy listed for the trainings were incorrect, and the advocates were never trained.
As a result, advocates were legally mandated under the Clery Act to report certain specified instances of sexual assault to the college. Both McCarthy and Keller said they understand that if the advocates were subpoenaed, they would be required to disclose these instances as testimony in court.
Despite these legal mandates, the advocates continued to operate confidentially last semester, Keller said. They did not report any instances of sexual assault to McCarthy’s office, which violated the Clery Act.
Keller admitted the advocates do not have the same legal protections as mental health counselors, medical practitioners and the colleges’ chaplains, who are not required to report incidents to McCarthy or if subpoenaed in court.
McCarthy made it clear that the advocates cannot declare themselves confidential resources without the privilege of legal confidentiality under the Clery Act.
Students have reacted critically to advocates’ suspension. On Saturday, advocates and students passed out flyers to parents at Pomona’s Family Weekend criticizing the decision to suspend the program.
At an ASPC meeting Feb. 14, ASPC President Alejandro Guerrero PO ’19 said two more open forums will be held by the committee that suspended the program to discuss the future of the advocates program in the next two weeks. The dates for these forums have not yet been announced.
A meeting between McCarthy and the advocates will also take place this week, McCarthy said.
Becky Hoving contributed to this report.
Julia Frankel PO ’22 is from Brooklyn, New York. She previously served as one of TSL’s news editors.