Pomona College has contracted with educator and sexual assault responder Tiombe Preston SC ’95 to perform an audit of the college’s programs and institutionalized responses to sexual assault. The move comes on the coattails of the U.S. Department of Education’s April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, which describes how schools must respond to sexual violence under Title IX, a national policy that prohibits discrimination based on sex in academic institutions.
In response to the letter’s guidelines, which schools are legally obligated to follow, Pomona lowered the standard of evidence required to find a student guilty of sexual misconduct in campus judicial proceedings last year. Preston’s audit will look more broadly at Pomona’s responses to sexual assault.
Preston, who led training sessions with student leaders on campus this summer, will speak with campus student groups including resident advisers, sponsors, fraternities, athletes and mentor programs while conducting her audit. She will also hold sessions with the On-Call staff and the Office of Campus Life (OCL).
The decision to conduct an audit was made jointly by the OCL, the Dean of Students Office and the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which includes the subcommittee on Title IX.
The results of the audit will be released directly to the campus community, meaning that students, faculty and staff will all receive the results simultaneously.
Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said that the audit will cover all aspects of the campus community in an attempt to address the underreporting of sexual assault and misconduct cases at Pomona.
“Part of what prompted [the audit] was a conversation I had with the Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, and they said that they wanted someone to come in who wasn’t a part of Pomona and had a sense of best practices,” she said. “They wanted someone who would not simply address the Advocates but also what other parts of the campus needed to do.”
Feldblum said she hopes that Preston will be able spot any gaps in the college’s current policies and programs regarding responses to claims of sexual assault.
“We hope that the results can help us focus not only on responses but also on primary prevention and education,” she said. “We want the process to be really fair, not just to claimants, but also to those implicated by the claims. They may be angry with the results, but we want everyone to be able to understand the process.”
Frank Bedoya, Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life and Director of Housing and Operations, said he hopes that having an expert not affiliated with Pomona will augment the critical nature of the audit.
“A lot of times when you have an outsider come in, they can look with a more critical eye,” he said. “They can more clearly identify areas that need improvement than those of us on the inside.”
Christian Gomez PO ’15, a sponsor and an Advocate, thought the choice to bring Preston in represented a major step forward on the part of the administration.
“She’s just one of those people who knows what she’s talking about. She’s very informed,” he said. “Granted, her training is long and hectic, but I sat through the spiel she gave us twice and I definitely learned something new every time.”
Gomez said he did not know what to expect from the audit, but he added that he hopes that it raises the level of dialogue on campus regarding sexual violence.
“The Advocates have been trying to initiate something like this for a while now, and it’s nice to know that the administration has finally heard,” Gomez said.
Bedoya said he hopes that the results of the audit can help the college shore up holes in its present policy regarding sexual assault. He and Feldblum both singled out bystander intervention as an important educational component they hope to focus on after the results of the audit are released.
Gomez said he hopes the administration can clear up both students’ and the administration’s understanding of consent when alcohol and drugs are involved.
“I hope that they clear up some of the judgments regarding substance use and consent, because as an Advocate and a sponsor, I thought the conversations during Orientation were unproductive,” he said.
Bedoya expressed hesitation about whether the audit could result in a staff member whose sole responsibility was dealing with issues of sexual violence.
“We’re looking for ways to better support survivors, but we are limited by the resources we have,” he said. “I know the Advocates would love a full-time individual. That would be nice, but I don’t think that could be an outcome.”