OPINION: Harvey Mudd succeeds and fails with Title IX complaints

A document entitled “Title IX Policy.” Two magnifying glasses hover over the document. One is “magnifying” the words “hearings policy” and the other is “magnifying” the words “confidential resources.”
Graphic by Donnie TC Denome

Harvey Mudd College has consistently adjusted its policy to comply with ever-changing Title IX regulations but still needs more confidential student resources for those making Title IX complaints.

On Nov. 22, HMC’s assistant vice president for student affairs and interim Title IX coordinator Leslie Hughes emailed all HMC students, staff and faculty about updates to HMC’s Sexual Misconduct and Complaint Resolution Policy made to ensure that the policy conforms to California law. 

“I’m a part of a Title IX working group of all the Title IX coordinators in the consortium. One of the things we talk about is evolving case law,” Hughes said. “HMC started to realize that there were a lot of different regulations and changes that were coming in, so we needed to change what our hearing process looked like … to make sure that we’re in compliance with what the courts are deciding.”

The revised policy will have an interim designation until it’s reviewed by the HMC Board of Trustees in January 2020. The Title IX Office will also continue to keep up to date with developing regulations from the U.S. Department of Education and revise its policy in accordance to any future changes.

Many of the updates to the Sexual Misconduct and Complaint Resolution Policy were necessary due to changes in laws related to Title IX, or were just simply clarifying. For instance, the policy now allows for cross-examination, which is required by court decisions. 

According to Hughes, this takes the form of a hybrid model in which a hearing officer allows both parties to submit questions. The officer then determines if the questions are appropriate and asks the parties the questions so the parties are not directly examining each other. Additionally, the language of “Early Resolution” was changed to “Informal Resolution” to better reflect the processes for complaint resolution.

“Historically, what we’ve tried to do as an institution with our Title IX policies has been to really try to support survivors — for example, amending formal hearing processes so that students don’t need to be in the same room together. There’s no cross examination,” Hughes said. “Basically, the guidance in the court decisions are not allowing us to do that anymore. So, we’ve tried to create … a hybrid model.”

Besides updating its policy, HMC has also improved the way in which it approaches sexual harassment and assault complaints through a Title IX team, developed in spring 2019, that includes three deputy Title IX coordinators, according to Hughes. The addition of this team is reflected in the new interim Sexual Misconduct and Complaint Resolution Policy.

However, HMC still lacks a sufficient amount of confidential resources for students who wish to talk to someone about their experiences with sexual harassment, sexual assault or other related issues.

Hughes’ email stated: “All HMC faculty members, staff members, administrators, proctors, mentors and some temporary student leaders are obligated to report any disclosures related to the Harvey Mudd College community that involve allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence and stalking.”

This means no one holding a position listed above is a confidential resource for students who may wish to discuss issues like sexual harassment or sexual assault without incidents being reported.

Confidential 5C resources include Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services, the EmPOWER Center, the McAlister Center Office of the Chaplains and Student Health Services.

But the only HMC-specific confidential resources who are also students are the Harvey Mudd Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault (HMC Advocates), which is made up of only three HMC students. Mentors — HMC sophomores through seniors who provide guidance and advice to fellow students — are legally obligated to disclose information about sexual assault, dating violence, stalking or sexual harassment because they’re considered responsible employees of the college.

So, though there are some 5C confidential resources, there are very few confidential resources on the HMC campus and, moreover, close to no HMC-specific resources who’re also HMC students. Not to mention, Monsour has been struggling with month-long wait times, which is much too long to wait for someone who’s experienced sexual violence and is in need of a confidential resource. 

HMC has done a good job adapting to the numerous ongoing changes with Title IX regulations but needs more confidential student resources so that students may feel more comfortable discussing Title IX-related issues like sexual harassment or sexual assault. 

It’s important for students who need to tell someone about something that’s happened to them to have the necessary resources, especially someone with whom they’re comfortable. It’s likely a student would be more comfortable discussing such issues with another student, instead of an unfamiliar adult.

As HMC continues to adapt its Title IX policy to new regulations, it can also look elsewhere to better support its students. For instance, vice president for student affairs and Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez points to consent education as something the team is trying to work on. 

“What we’re hoping for, now that we’ve been able to make some changes to this interim policy, is that we can continue to focus on consent education and putting our efforts into what consent means for our students,” Gonzalez said.

Similarly, HMC can also improve on providing more confidential resources for Title IX complaints.

Though HMC has made significant progress in navigating Title IX legalese, it can do even better. To ensure students’ needs are being met, HMC must have more confidential student resources for Title IX-related issues. And like HMC, the other 5Cs, which also really only have their own Advocates groups as confidential student resources, can also benefit from increasing the number of on-campus confidential student resources. 

For victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and dating violence, the accessibility of and comfort with resources for support is of great importance. A lack of confidential student resources further exacerbates already difficult situations.

Michelle Lum HM ’23 is from San Jose, California. As one of the HMC Class of 2023 Presidents, she deeply cares about the HMC community and hopes the college will provide students with the resources they need.

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