Pomona Places Sexual Assault Policy Under Review

As sexual assault prevention and response remains a point of controversy and discussion among college campuses across the country, Pomona College students have demanded that their school develop more resources for survivor support and policy reassessment.

In May 2015, Yenli Wong PO ‘15 gained campus-wide and even national recognition when she drafted a petition calling for the Pomona administration to take a stronger stance against sexual assault. She also wrote op-eds for TSL and the Huffington Post about her experience with the sexual assault reporting process at Pomona.

In her open letter to President David Oxtoby, Wong described her experience filing a Title IX report as “isolating” and “painful.” Wong claimed the administration requested she remain silent about her case; that the resulting sanctions were not adequately severe; that she did not receive proper emotional, financial, or legal support throughout the investigation and hearing process; and that ultimately her appeal was not addressed in an effective or timely manner.

At Pomona’s 2015 commencement ceremony, Wong, along with a large group of students and residential advisors, organized a protest in which participants turned their backs on the president and covered their mouths with their hands. Written on the hands of some students was the phrase “Keep it quiet.”

In the school’s official video of the ceremony, publicly available on its YouTube channel, a brief shot of students beginning to stand cuts to a close-up of the speaker. It is also one of the only videos on the channel to have its comments section disabled.

In a letter to the Pomona community in June, Oxtoby acknowledged the school’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all of its members by supporting survivors as well as promoting education and conversation within the community. He continued by outlining the current and developing training programs and resources available for survivors as well as efforts to review its administrative policies.

In an interview with TSL, Oxtoby said, “Keeping our students safe and maintaining our reputation, those go together. If we fail to keep students safe that’s going to hurt our reputation.”

Oxtoby announced the creation of the Title IX Task Force in September, which is tasked with reviewing Pomona’s discrimination and harassment policies and grievance procedures and reporting to the board of trustees by December. The task force is comprised of student government and advocacy representatives as well as faculty, staff, and trustees.

Raquel Valdez PO ’17, a member of both the Title IX Working Group and Pomona’s Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, said that students’ voices and feedback are crucial in shaping the new guidelines.

“In the future there will be small group discussions about specific parts of policy, which will be important for students to attend,” Valdez said. “I think that is when it’s really important for students to look over the changes to see whether they agree or disagree and see whether it is benefitting them.”

In addition to policy reviews, Pomona has emphasized the importance of campus dialogue and community education.

“I believe a fundamental understanding of what constitutes sexual assault and what affirmative consent means leads to an effective framework for addressing sexual assault and ultimately preventing it,” Title IX Coordinator Daren Mooko wrote in an email to TSL.

Starting this year, all first-years are required to attend Teal Dot training. Teal Dot, based on a program called Green Dot, focuses on teaching bystanders how to prevent potential instances of power-based interpersonal violence.  If students do not attend a Teal Dot session, they will be placed at the bottom of the room draw list.

“We want all first-years to feel like they know what to do if they see something they think could be a problematic situation,” said Ellie Ash-Balá, director of the Smith Campus Center.

According to Ash-Balá, making Teal Dot mandatory was not a direct response to any particular event but simply a step that the college wanted to take.

In addition to Teal Dot training, all first-years are also required to attend a policy and resource workshop led by Mooko. They will be provided with written resource guides detailing the reporting options, the hearing process, the school’s policies and definitions, as well as on- and off-campus resources available.

This summer, the college announced its new partnership with the pilot program Callisto, an online reporting app for sexual assault. With Callisto, students can file reports of sexual assault, which can then be encrypted, sent directly to the school, or filed until another student accuses the same individual. The school is also collaborating with the other Claremont Colleges to build the EmPOWER Center, a 7C sexual assault resource center, which is expected to open by the end of this semester.

“This is obviously a really important issue that we want to make progress on,” Oxtoby said. “I welcome the open discussion of this. I think it’s really important to have across campus.”

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