Pomona College's Title IX Working Group proposed a set of revisions to Pomona's sexual assault policy on Nov. 17. The proposal includes a few key policy changes, including clearer sanctions and the use of an external adjudicator to determine sanctions in the event of a hearing. The comment period for the proposal is open until Dec. 17.
The proposal policy would specify a range of sanctions corresponding to various forms of assault, ranging from sexual assault to prohibited forms of conduct such as stalking. The policy also provides robust definitions of prohibited conduct and consent.
The Title IX working group, which consists of students, staff and trustees, worked on developing the proposal throughout this summer and fall.
“One of the things that came up with the Title IX Working Group was a [desire for] more explicit guidance around sanctions,” Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum said.
Pomona Title IX Coordinator Daren Mooko said that the current policy, created in 2013, has unclear language about sanctions. Sanctions are determined on a case-by-case basis depending on severity, prior conduct, and the wishes of the plaintiff. As such, students did not specifically know what outcomes to expect when deciding whether to report a sexual assault case.
Sarah Devereaux-Hardimon PO ‘16, a member of the working group, wrote in an email to TSL that she hoped to clarify the language of Pomona’s policy.
“I would like to see the working group provide more explicit definitions of coercion, and to see a shift away from penetration being treated as the primary measure of harm,” Devereaux-Hardimon wrote.
The new proposal aims to offer students more resources, including an individually assigned case manager and an external adjudicator if they have questions about the proceedings.
“There was a really strong desire by students on the working group to have more accountability [for the college] in the process,” Feldblum said.
The college's current policy was created in 2013 in response to the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the US Office of Civil Rights to every higher education institution in the country. This letter emphasized a renewed focus on sexual harassment and introduced several new regulations for colleges to implement.
Mooko said that not only did Pomona immediately implement the changes called for in the letter but “used that as an occasion to completely overhaul our policies.”
“We created a whole new set of policies during the 2012-13 academic year and that working group was comprised of faculty, staff, and students,” he said.
One of the most important effects of this letter was to lower the standard necessary for a defendant to be found guilty. Prior to 2011, Pomona used the “clear and convincing” standard when trying sexual assault cases, which means that sanctions necessitate 75 percent certainty of the alleged assault’s occurrence.
“The Dear Colleague letter in 2011 says that [we] should hear all cases using the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ of the standard,” Mooko said. “So immediately we made that change.”
The 2013 policy also took Title IX cases out of the jursdiction of the student council and into the jurisdiction of a sexual assault hearing board, according to Mooko. The new policy also called for a full-time Title IX Coordinator, a position that Mooko filled.
Mooko said that he knew that further revisions of the policy would be necessary.
“Anytime an institution creates a brand new policy on such an important issue, they have to build in review mechanisms,” he said.
Mooko initially hoped to create a working group to review the policy in the 2013-14 academic year. However, there was an unusually small number of cases reported, so he decided to wait until there were more cases so that Pomona could better judge the effectiveness of the policy. In the 2014-15 year, there was a strong uptick in reporting, however.
“It was my intention to pull together a group in the spring '15,” Mooko said. “There were so many cases that there was not an opportunity to do it.”
The revisions of Pomona’s sexual assault policy over the years has been shaped both by external regulations, feedback from the Pomona community and examples set by other institutions. Mooko said that whenever there is a new state or federal regulation, it is “enacted immediately.”
“The majority of things we’ve changed are motivated from listening to members of our community and responding,” Feldblum said. “We’re also learning from others who are working on the issues nationally.”
Revision of the sexual assault policy is an ongoing process.
“In a year from now, we may go through another round of revisions,” Feldblum said. “We all recognize that we have to see how students and others experience these new processes.”
In addition to procedural changes for dealing with the occurrence of sexual assault, Pomona is also putting measures in place to educate and change the culture around sexual assault.
Feldblum said that as the policy is being revised, the college is implementing initatives to prevent sexual assault. This includes Teal Dot training, now mandatory for all first-years, and the EmPOWER center that was launched this fall, which Feldblum said will “work on prevention, education, as well as response.”