Pomona suspends sexual assault survivors program

Pomona Advocates is run from Heart Center. The school administration suspended the program for the remainder of the semester, citing “urgent and mostly confidential concerns.” (Courtesy: Molly Keller)

Pomona College announced Wednesday that the Pomona Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault program has been suspended for the remainder of the spring semester, an unanticipated and controversial move that prompted nearly 100 students to pack an ASPC meeting room to voice their dissent.

Written by the President’s Advisory Committee On Sexual Violence, Intervention and Prevention Leadership team, the emailed announcement to students cited “urgent and mostly confidential concerns” as reasoning for the suspension of the popular program.

Because they had been designated confidential resources, advocates were not required to report sexual assaults to the college. The availability of a confidant who is not required to report an assault can make survivors more likely to come forward and share their stories.

But the committee realized the advocates’ confidentiality was not in compliance with a federal law that requires confidential campus resources to undergo specific training to secure the privilege of confidentiality, according to an unsigned statement on the Pomona Advocates Facebook page. The advocates had not completed this training.

Advocate Molly Keller PO ’19 said the group was informed last summer that it had lost its confidential status. Advocates needed to complete 40 hours of training facilitated by Project Sister, an agency that provides resources to survivors of sexual assault, to retain that status, according to the group’s Facebook post.

Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean Sue McCarthy told the advocates over email that the Project Sister training would take place in October 2018, according to the Facebook post. But the dates McCarthy listed for the trainings were incorrect, and the advocates didn’t end up doing the training.

Even though they had not completed the training, last semester the advocates did not tell the college about sexual assaults that were reported to them, in violation of federal law.

At a standing-room-only ASPC meeting Thursday, Emily Coffin PO ’19, an advocate, chastised McCarthy in front of the crowd.

“Sue, you messed up the dates,” Coffin said, arguing that McCarthy mishandled this “small detail,” which should have been easily addressed.

McCarthy responded with an apology.

“I want to acknowledge that I did get those dates wrong. I own that,” she said. “I would have never wanted that to happen.”

The administration notified six of the more than 20 Advocates about the program suspension an hour before the PAC-SVIP email, Keller said.

Olivia Wood PO ’19, one of the head Pomona Women’s Union coordinators, met with McCarthy Monday to discuss the advocates’ future. McCarthy did not mention that the program would be suspended two days later, Wood said.

“I want to stress that really clearly,” Wood said. “She never mentioned it.”

At the ASPC meeting, advocates expressed frustration with McCarthy and the Pomona administration for failing to involve them in the suspension decision. They also promised to continue their work even without Pomona’s support.  

“At every turn, we have tried to communicate with this administration and the way we have been portrayed is the complete opposite,” Keller said. “We do not believe that our work can be paused. We will continue to support all and every survivor that we can.”

McCarthy also responded to student reports that Tiombe Wallace, a trained counselor who advised the advocates, was fired by McCarthy’s office.

“Tiombe wasn’t fired,” McCarthy said. “Once we knew that the advocate program was going to be moving towards a partnership with Project Sister, I told her that we wouldn’t be retaining the services she was providing.”

In the middle of an interview with TSL Tuesday, the day before PAC-SVIP suspended the advocates program, Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson texted McCarthy to ask which groups on campus were confidential reporters. In response, McCarthy told Hinkson that the advocates were confidential reporters, which conflicts with what Keller says McCarthy emailed the group last summer.

When an unidentified student asked McCarthy at the ASPC meeting about other resources available to survivors while the advocates program is suspended, McCarthy listed Monsour Counseling Services, which has been the subject of frequent student criticism, among other services, and the room erupted in laughter.

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