Pomona College announced that it is the subject of a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights yesterday, Oct. 8, regarding the school’s responses to sexual assault cases brought before the administration.
The complaint alleges that Pomona “fails to promptly and equitably respond to sexual violence complaints, reports and/or other incidents of which it has notice,” which “allows students to be subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of sex.”
Yenli Wong PO ‘15, who identified herself as the lead complainant of the case, united with ten other students, all of whom had also gone through Pomona’s sexual assault grievance procedure, to file the complaint against the college in response to their experiences with the adjudication process.
“Pomona College needs to be held accountable; let’s stop pretending we live in a bubble where nothing bad ever happens,” Wong wrote in an email to TSL. “Our sexual misconduct policy needs to be revamped and the administration needs to change their attitudes towards dealing with cases of sexual violence.”
Pomona joins 143 other colleges and universities nationwide that are currently under investigation by the Department of Education for alleged violations of Title IX. Other schools that have been the subjects of Title IX investigations recently include Harvard University, Swarthmore College and Amherst College.
Pomona’s sexual assault policy was the subject of national scrutiny over the summer, as Wong’s story attracted national attention from media outlets like Slate and the Huffington Post. This was in part due to a protest where members of Pomona’s class of 2015 turned their backs during President David Oxtoby’s speech at commencement to protest the school’s handling of sexual assault cases.
“I was positive the college would protect me, but I was naive,” Wong wrote in a TSL op-ed this May. “Maneuvering this complex system of reporting a Title IX case without an officially designated support person that I could confide in without breaking confidentiality rules has been confusing and isolating, to say the least, especially since I was never given or even told about resources, such as Monsour Counseling or Pomona College Advocates, to help me through the process.”
The complaint comes as Pomona is placing its sexual assault policy under review this semester. The Title IX Working Group, announced by Oxtoby in September, will be holding discussions in late October and November regarding Pomona’s policy, which was last revised in 2013.
Title IX was written in 1972 to protect people from sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. It first started being applied to sexual assault in April 2011 with the “Dear Colleague” letter, which extended the definition of sex discrimination to acts of sexual violence and harassment.
“We don’t disagree with the Office of Civil Rights prioritizing Title IX as an issue for college campuses,” Pomona Title IX Coordinator Daren Mooko said. “Our goals are identical in that matter.”
Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said that the administration was completely unaware of the complaint until Wednesday, Oct. 7. The college formally received the complaint on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 8, and sent out an email notifying the Pomona community, including students, staff, faculty and parents, in the afternoon.
Mooko said that he was aware that Pomona’s policies regarding sexual assault grievance procedures may have their faults.
“I think it’s possible to have our policies and procedures written the best that we know and the best that would be available to us, but I also think it’s possible for a student to feel like the process didn’t work for them,” Mooko said. “I don’t think those are at odds with each other, necessarily.”
To Mooko’s knowledge, this is the first time a Title IX complaint has been filed against Pomona in his 18 years at the college. Feldblum said that she was not aware of any complaints filed during her nine years at the school.
The last time that a Title IX complaint was made against one of the Claremont Colleges was in March 2012, when a student brought a complaint to Pitzer College after being unsatisfied with their experience with the sexual assault adjudication process. According to documents obtained by TSL under the Freedom of Information Act, the process was resolved a year later in March 2013 with a revision of Pitzer’s sexual assault policy.
As the investigation into Pomona’s own policies proceeds, Wong and her fellow complainants intend to press forward with their complaint against Pomona.
“Survivors of sexual violence deserve to be treated with compassion and respect; they should not be re-traumatized and silenced by Pomona’s administration,” Wong wrote.
Correction: The article originally indicated that the Title IX complaint against Pitzer College was in 2011. The complaint was filed in March 2012.