Despite Thursday’s snow catastrophe, the University’s Title IX external review, held on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, proceeded as scheduled. Attorneys from the Victim Rights Law Center joined University administrators, students, and faculty in a series of meetings and forums to evaluate the current state of the University’s Title IX policy as well as its procedures relating to the Violence Against Women Act. While the official report will not be released until the spring, initial impressions of the review indicated both points of pride and concern.
Lex Spirtes ’17, who currently serves as the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Intern, attended the review’s open forum, education committee meeting, and survivor meeting. She noted that primarily faculty and staff attended the open forum. It is possible that the weather, a lack of advertising to the student body, or some combination of the two, precluded a higher level of student attendance.
“I think the main issue is that people didn’t know the open forum was going on,” said Spirtes. “There was a very small amount of students there…people wanted to be heard, but didn’t know that that was an opportunity.”
The sparsely attended meeting did allow for a number of specific issues to be brought to the forefront of the conversation, particularly the scarcity of resources available to faculty and staff looking to report incidences of sexual violence.
“A lot of people have been here for so many years and don’t know what the protocol is [for reporting sexual harassment and assault],” Spirtes said.
Another issue touched upon was the lack of official protocol regulating faculty-student relationships. University President Michael Roth addressed this, stating that faculty have the responsibility to develop their protocol, something he would like to see take place.
“There are rules about such things at the workplace, and there are rules about the harassment and manipulation of people who are either reporting to you or beholden to you in other ways, as you’re being graded by someone,” Roth said. “So there are rules about that, and the Title IX office or office of inclusion could spell those out. Wesleyan does not have formal rules about the sexual relations among faculty or between faculty and students. At least, I have asked the faculty to actually create such rules. But they have not done so.”
He acknowledged a shift in attitude since his time as a student at the University, one to which official policy has not yet caught up.
“When I was a student there were plenty of faculty who were just a few years older than we were, and that’s still the case, and I think that’s still the case, but I’m not sure of that. But my view is that we should have a rule,” he said. “The faculty should have a rule saying this is inappropriate behavior for a faculty member. But that would have to be, regardless of whether everybody is happy with the relationship, that it is still inappropriate for a faculty member. But, because of the power dynamics and other things. But, faculty has not passed that rule. But we have other things to make students feel, or faculty or staff, that feel that they have been pressured or harassed in any way.”
Overall, the mood regarding the review remains optimistic. Upon the release of the report, University groups and committees tasked with designing and effectively implementing Title IX policy will have an outline for where to go next.
Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias is pleased with how the review went and also is happy to start looking ahead.
“It’s a credit to the commitment of the campus community to continue to enhance the Title IX process, practices, and procedures, that even with the challenges presented by the snow storm, a solid representation of students, staff, faculty, and community partners took part in the external review, either in person or via the video dial-in option provided,” Farias wrote in an email to The Argus. “We look forward to sharing the report with the campus and the real work ahead as we strive to continuously improve the process.”
Spirtes is also optimistic at the chance for improvement.
“I’m really excited for the report to come out,” Spirtes said.