Students across the Claremont consortium logged into their e-mail accounts last week to find an e-mail about a reported sexual assault at Claremont McKenna College in their inboxes. The e-mail, along with subsequent notifications, is part of a new intercollegiate system designed to inform students about sexual misconduct across the 7Cs.
The intention of the e-mail network is to foster awareness of sexual misconduct on campus, and to stimulate discussions about sexual assault and consent culture, according to Daren Mooko, Pomona College’s Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator.
The e-mails also serve a public safety function, he said: if multiple assaults occur at the same event, students can take precautions, and administrators can work to make the event safer in the future.
“I think it’s a great step, that this information is to be more widely circulated,” said Natalie Daifotis PO ’15, a member of Pomona’s Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault.
The new notification system was implemented by the Student Deans Committee, a regularly meeting body of deans from each of the 7Cs that has worked to revamp the schools’ sexual misconduct policies over the past two years.
Because of the proximity of the colleges, Mooko said the administrators on the committee decided that all Claremont students should be notified about any alleged incident, regardless of the campus on which it occurred.
Mooko compared the new e-mail alert system to the 7Cs’ agreement about bias-related incident notification. Several years ago, the schools worked together to establish greater similarity between their definitions of a bias-related incident, and implemented with it a 7C email notification system.
“If there was a bias-related incident at Pitzer [College], and the Pitzer dean felt that it was significant enough to send that announcement out to the other deans, all the other deans are then compelled to send it out to their own campuses,” Mooko said.
The first e-mail under the new alert system was sent Sept. 30 by CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman and subsequently forwarded by deans at the other schools to their students. The e-mail notified students of two incidents that reportedly occurred at CMC’s Toga Party Sept. 21.
Although two incidents were reported at the same party, “there is no reason to believe that the event itself contributed to the incidents that were reported to the College, so we do not anticipate changes to a party with that specific name,” Spellman wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “However, we always evaluate how an event went afterward to determine if there were any issues with the event.”
An e-mail sent Oct. 3 notified students of an incident that reportedly occurred Sept. 7 at the 6:01 party at CMC.
“The notifications provide general information about an incident so the community is aware of the nature of the incident,” wrote Spellman, who is CMC’s Title IX Coordinator. “It is also important that we give community members timely opportunity to provide information to the College should they have information about an incident that might be helpful to the College in responding to it.”
An e-mail sent by Mooko on Oct. 10 notified students of a sexual assault reported to have occurred at Harwood Halloween in Oct. 2012 and an alleged sexual assault at the Sept. 18 Pub reported by an anonymous source. Pub has been cancelled pending an investigation into the incident, the e-mail said (see article, page 1).
The sexual misconduct notification system is still in its early stages, Mooko said, and administrators at the different schools are working to iron out some of the kinks.
Mooko said that in the early days of the bias-related incident notification system, he was worried that the potentially large numbers of e-mails might dilute the seriousness of the problem.
“There was a period where, maybe over the course of a semester, three or four, maybe five bias-related incident notifications [would] go out,” Mooko said. “I got word that some students were blocking my e-mail address … We have to be very selective about what we send to all students.”
In 2012, four forcible sexual offenses were reported at CMC, four at Pomona, three at Harvey Mudd College, three at Scripps College, one at Pitzer College, and one on property belonging to the Claremont University Consortium, according to a report released as part of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.
The total of 16 reported incidents represented an increase from seven reported incidents in 2011, which was also the number of incidents reported in 2010.
Mooko said that the increase was probably because more students reported incidents, not because more assaults occurred.
“When there’s more institutional attention paid to this issue, and when there’s good policies in place, and when support services are increased, I think we’ll see a lot more reporting,” Mooko said.
With the new e-mail service, he said he expects numbers of reported incidents to increase dramatically; students might receive e-mails on a weekly basis.
When writing the e-mail alerts, the deans try to preserve anonymity as much as possible, Mooko said. Names of individuals are not revealed, and in some cases even the name of a social event might be redacted if it is only peripheral to the reported assault.
Daifotis said she was concerned that the e-mails might cause trauma for victims of sexual assault.
“The material contained in those reports can be very triggering to lots of people,” she said.
Daifotis said she has talked with Mooko about the problem and made several suggestions to improve the e-mails, such as including a prominently displayed trigger warning.
Another idea, she said, was to create a webpage for descriptions of each incident, and to provide a link to the webpage in each e-mail alert instead of including the full incident description in the e-mail itself.
Pomona administrators are considering such changes, Mooko said.