CW: Sexual violence
The Claremont Colleges announced their interim Title IX policy on Monday — the first one to govern the consortium rather than individual schools, applying to every member of the 7Cs except for Keck Graduate Institute. The policy responds to new rules instituted in May by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos which broadly overhauled the way schools respond to sexual harassment, discrimination and misconduct.
Students, including Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault from across the consortium, expressed concerns that aspects of the new process could retraumatize survivors and that key stakeholders weren’t sufficiently involved as the interim guidelines were drafted in recent months.
Under the new 6C procedure, which was developed by an ad hoc task force of college administrators, reports of sexual misconduct are directed to individual institutions’ Title IX coordinators, who then refer the cases to a single TCCS Title IX administrator; a new position. Prior to these guidelines, cases were handled at individual colleges.
Pursuant to the DeVos regulations, the new policy affords greater rights to those accused of misconduct and narrows the scope of offenses the colleges may respond to, excluding conduct that occurs off campus and outside of an “education program or activity.”
“Many in our community, including members of the Task Force, do not support all of the changes required by the federal government,” the task force members wrote in an open letter announcing the changes. “Nonetheless, we are required to adopt a policy that complies with these new regulations or risk the loss of federal funding, which would substantially diminish the quality of education for the students at The Claremont Colleges.”
The Department of Education required the colleges to implement changes by Friday, but the task force said the new policy is interim. The task force incorporated a revision period in which students, staff and faculty can provide feedback and suggest changes.
“[A unified policy] is something that students have wanted for a very, very long time.” — ASPC Vice President of Student Affairs Hershey Suri PO ’21.
“Hopefully this means that the Title IX policy the TCC community ends up with is far more trauma informed, community centric and survivor centric, and reflects the needs and wants and desires of the 7C community,” Pitzer Advocates co-head Julia Young PZ ’22 said.
TCC students, faculty and staff may submit comments directly to the task force for revisions of the interim policy, or email TitleIX@claremont.edu by Sept. 23. The task force also announced two virtual listening sessions to take place in September.
“It’s really important right now that the advocate group, students who are key stakeholders in this issue and other people in the TCC community are really engaged in the editing process so that it really reflects the needs and wants of the student body,” Young said.
DeVos released a Final Rule on May 6 that redefined sexual harassment, imposed new legal obligations on colleges and universities and bolstered due process rights.
Institutions across the country were given 87 days to comply, which many administrators warned would lead to hasty and detrimental revisions. The American Council on Education said in a legal filing that the order would “almost assuredly negatively affect the quality of the policies and procedures that institutions scramble to craft.”
Still, some administrators said they hoped the opportunity to revisit the policy could yield some benefits.
“Despite some of the more concerning aspects of the new federal regulations, this new policy and process has the potential to improve the way Title IX cases are adjudicated at TCC,” Harvey Mudd College Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez said in an email to the HMC community Monday.
The new TCC policy simplifies cross-campus cases, where procedures have historically been complicated by varying policies. “[A unified policy] is something that students have wanted for a very, very long time,” said ASPC Vice President of Student Affairs Hershey Suri PO ’21.
But Advocates groups across the consortium expressed concerns about the specifics of the unified proposal.
“Although a unified Title IX policy is something that we have supported in the past, we are concerned about some aspects of this new interim policy,” Erika MacDonald HM ’21 wrote on behalf of the HMC Advocates in an email to the Mudd student body Monday.
“Despite some of the more concerning aspects of the new federal regulations, this new policy and process has the potential to improve the way Title IX cases are adjudicated at TCC.” — Harvey Mudd College Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez
Scripps Advocates was also critical of both the policy and process in which it was created, writing in an open letter that “the policy is not trauma informed, the policy includes disturbing practices and internal contradictions and there are many passages that have been left dangerously ambiguous.”
CMC’s Advocates highlighted that the policy establishes that a perpetrator’s character, including “contributions to the institutional community,” be considered when determining sanctions for their actions.
Suri noted that the entire system will now be overseen by a single consortium-wide administrator.
“In my opinion, it’s an extremely overwhelming workload for one person,” she said.
Students also expressed discontent with how the task force went about drafting the interim policy, citing the lack of involvement from trauma informed Title IX coordinators.
“The way that the interim policy was created was without any Title IX coordinator or student input or really active involvement,” Suri said. “The task force didn’t have any Title IX coordinators in it. They were very secretive and not transparent about their processes.”
Pomona’s Campus Advocates reflected similar concerns in an open letter Monday.
“There has been little to no communication from the Task Force as a collective, no meaningful engagement of key stakeholders, and their process lacked any degree of transparency,” the Advocates said. “We saw the finalized interim policy along with the rest of the TCCS community.”
The 7C Council of Presidents initially created the task force in late fall 2019 to create a unified TCC policy, only this summer rushing the policy to follow the federal regulations by DeVos’ deadline. In the task force letter, Gonzalez, Pomona President Gabrielle Starr and Scripps College President Lara Tiedens, wrote:
“Unfortunately, as with so much else in life, our timeline for gathering input was delayed by COVID-19,” the members said. “This delay, combined with an unexpectedly short deadline to adopt new rules imposed by the Federal Department of Education, left us with no time to gather input prior to adopting what we are now referring to as an ‘interim’ policy.”
Before the Title IX interim policy was released, student leaders and Advocates managed to obtain the draft policies and suggest edits in late July, Suri said.
But stakeholders, including Title IX coordinators, weren’t aware of the expedited process until mid-July, according to the Pomona Advocates, who later sent the task force six pages of comments and edits, according to Glen Skahill PO ’22.
The Advocates anticipated seeing some of their concerns addressed when the policy was released. Skahill said that wasn’t the case.
Cristina Rose, a member of The Claremont Colleges’ board of directors, chaired the task force. In addition to Tiedens, Starr and Gonzalez, members included Claremont McKenna College Vice President and General Counsel Matt Bibbens; Pitzer College Chief of Staff and Chief Legal Counsel Jamie Jorgensen; KGI Dean of Students Cynthia Martinez; and CGU Dean of Students Quamina Carter. No Title IX coordinators are members.
Under the new 6C procedure, an investigator is designated by the Title IX administrator and is entrusted with interviewing the complainant, respondent and witnesses, and creating a preliminary investigation report. This report is provided to the parties for review, such that parties can respond to evidence and provide further information.
The Title IX administrator is tasked with reviewing the final report and determining if the case will proceed to a hearing for all 6C Title IX cases. The new 6C policy adopts a qualitative “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning evidence on one side “outweighs” the other.
Survivors’ rights groups have largely disapproved of the federal requirements, asserting that the new regulations could deter survivors from coming forward and retraumatize survivors through live hearing and cross-examination procedures, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The regulations require some form of cross-examination, a controversial measure intended to restore due process to what DeVos called “kangaroo courts.” The changes address “Dear Colleague” letter critics, an Obama-era guidance that DeVos said tipped cases in complainants’ favor.
But groups advocating for survivors also cheered the inclusion of dating violence in the Education Department’s new definition of sexual harassment.
The EmPOWER Center provides a list of 7C resources for students, staff and faculty, including contact information for each 5C student Advocates organization.