In an effort to further educate the University community on issues of sexual violence and Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, student and faculty members of the Title IX Policy and Education Committees held an information session and free lunch on Thursday, April 9.
Title IX Officer and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias oversees four tri-chaired Title IX committees: Core Committee, Policy Committee, Education Committee, and the Student Advisory Committee.
The Title IX Policy Committee is chaired by Professor of Philosophy and East Asian Studies and Chair of the College of East Asian Studies Stephen Angle, Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Equity Compliance Director Debbi Colucci, and Rachel Verner ’15.
The Title IX Education Committee is chaired by Associate Professor of Government and Director of the Public Affairs Center Sarah Wiliarty, Therapist and Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren, and Sexual Assault Response Team Intern Nikita Rajgopal ’17.
Farias began the discussion by encouraging students to take the University Sexual Assault Climate Survey, a precursor to the mandatory federal survey that will be administered next year by the Office of Civil Rights.
One student attendee asked for specific information about changes made to the University’s adjudication process for Title IX.
Colucci outlined the changes that were made since January: there are now four investigators, so that when a student is ready to file a report and start the investigation process, the University can begin as soon as possible. The pool for the hearing panel has also been expanded to almost 30 people.
Additionally, students now going through the process are made aware of the four people on the hearing panel ahead of time. This way, if there is a conflict of interest, the committee can switch out certain panelists before the hearing.
Colucci concluded with changes surrounding questioning, a subject that received a lot of feedback from the University community.
“What we do now is ask that all four case panelists read the case before,” Colucci said. “It’s really important to remember that the hearing is not a reinvestigation; the investigation has the facts; the hearing is looking at those facts and moving it forward…. No one should be asked the same question that they’ve already been asked.”
In addition to changes occurring within the University, Farias mentioned Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) arising with services outside the institution. He stated that when explaining to any survivor what their options are, they are always encouraged to go to the police.
“Those of you that are here in the fall are going to see a lot more [Middletown Police Department] officers being trained,” Farias said. “They’re going to be walking around, and that’s about getting people acclimated.”
After several students expressed confusion about the alleged increased police presence on campus, Colucci clarified.
“Anyone who has been a victim and wants to file a complaint has the option to do that criminally,” Colucci said. “With campus investigations, we can hold people accountable for violating our community expectations of each other, which is different [from] criminal responsibility, but a student gets to make that choice. This MOU helps to lessen the gap so that it’s not as scary to go to Middletown Police.”
Warren then moved the discussion to the University’s educational campaign, citing the Bystander Intervention Program as something that involves the entire community.
“We talk a lot about consent and healthy relationships, and positive sexuality, because when we’re addressing or trying to eradicate sexual violence, it’s not just [about] the incident,” Warren said. “We also have to look at the factors that impact reporting, the factors that impact people’s individual experiences of this.”
Rajgopal continued to outline most of the educational efforts made on campus, including specific trainings for groups such as Delta Kappa Epsilon, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Eclectic, and Alpha Delta Phi Society. In addition to Bystander Intervention Training and a Title IX Policy Forum, there have also been “Healthy Hookup,” “Healthy Relationship,” and “Supporting Survivors” workshops over the course of the year.
One specific achievement Rajgopal listed involved the athletes on campus.
“Over winter break, we were able to train 168 of the winter athletes on campus,” Rajgopal said. “This semester, we plan to reach the other athletes on campus that weren’t there over winter break.”
Later in the discussion, Farias emphasized that the committee is making efforts to specifically provide support for the queer community and for groups that have traditionally been marginalized in the reporting and investigation processes.
He also spoke about the gender dynamics surrounding sexual violence.
“I brought together all the male coaches [to talk] about these issues,” Farias said. “We’ve also intervened very specifically with a couple of all-male teams, bringing in very specific people to do that work. It’s not to point the finger and say, ‘Men are the problem,’ but men are part of the solution.”
Claire Wright ’16 introduced a final educational effort made in collaboration with ResLife, which will have the capacity to reach all first-years, sophomores, and many juniors about sexual violence awareness.
“One of the things we’ve been working on…is actually developing an education curriculum with all resident halls and program houses,” Wright said. “When students are looking for support…the community that they’re living with [will be] built to be supportive, where people are held accountable for proactively ending sexual violence.”
Yiyang Wang ’15, having met with members of the committees last semester, expressed surprise at how quickly the University has implemented changes to the adjudication process, as well as some concerns.
“I’m heartened by the improvements to the panel system,” Wang said. “As a senior about to leave campus, I hope that students will continue to pressure the administration to continue these reforms in the future. Something I am very uncomfortable with is the further introduction of Middletown police onto our campus. I understand that the school wants us to be more comfortable with law enforcement…but I am weary and uncomfortable with the way MPD treated Wesleyan students and exhorted them for information in the aftermath of the drug overdoses.”
Throughout the discussion, Farias specifically emphasized that the process will be continuously evolving and that the committee is very open to change.
“Some of the things we’re going to try are going to be counterintuitive, they’re going to be edgy,” Farias said. “The common-sense approach isn’t necessarily the right thing.”