Content Warning: Sexual violence
Wesleyan’s annual Sexual Violence Report announced that there were 19 reports of sexual misconduct for the 2018-19 academic year. The report, released on Sept. 23, 2019, also detailed the Title IX office’s ongoing work to create trauma-informed policies despite potential new federal regulations.
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer Alison Williams ’81, who released the report, commented on how this data will be used to improve all sexual violence resources on campus.
“We really want to have as safe a campus as possible,” Williams said. “So [we want to know]: Is there a particular area where we’re seeing an uptick of some behaviors, and do we need to target our educational and outreach prevention programs to a certain area?”
Of the 19 reported sexual misconduct cases, 14 cases detailed a report of sexual assault, 4 reported intimate partner violence, and 1 reported stalking. According to the report, two cases resulted in expulsion, and one resulted in an arrest.
The Title IX Office has seen several shifts over the past few years. Equity Compliance Director and Deputy Title IX Officer Debbie Colucci believes that, although they cannot draw definitive conclusions from the data they collect, there may be an association with the creation of her position and the increase in reports from 1 in 2012 to 37 in 2014.
“I think there could be a connection to the moment in time,” Colucci wrote in an email to The Argus. “My role was created and I began in June of 2014; a portion of the cases I received were for situations that actually happened a year or more prior. Prior to that there were process for reporting; but the creating streamlined that. It is also the time when we began reviewing and revising all policies and procedures.”
In response to both external review and internal dialogues, the University has reshaped policies and committees since 2011 with the creation of a Sexual Violence Task Force (SVTF), in response to a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) released by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
One of the policy changes, which was made in response to student input regarding Title IX compliance, was eliminating the requirement of an in-person hearing for sexual misconduct investigations.
“There was strong sentiment that the university should [work] to enhance trauma-informed practices,” the report reads. “As a result, Wesleyan [moved] away from the model of an in-person hearing for student cases of sexual misconduct.”
At the time of the change, the Obama administration also discouraged in-person hearings as a trauma-informed practice, but now newly proposed federal regulations regarding Title IX from the Department of Education may change what that looks like. The proposed regulations would require live hearings with cross-examinations and make evidence in the investigations available to both parties.
The proposed regulations underwent a public comment period where universities, including Wesleyan, submitted suggestions and criticisms.
“Wesleyan employed the live hearing model for a significant period of time, until it became clear that the pitfalls associated with that model outweighed its usefulness,” the “Comments of Wesleyan University” document reads. “While investigations were completed and reports issued prior to the initiation of a hearing, the hearing nonetheless became a springboard for attempts to introduce new evidence, witnesses, and testimony of disputed relevance. The hearing also, at times, embarrassed parties in ways that derailed the process. ”
With the public comment period now over and universities waiting to see the official regulations, Williams believes the people at Wesleyan responsible for handling cases of sexual misconduct have to adapt to whatever comes their way.
“We are struggling with [the proposed rule changes] because when people have experienced trauma, it’s not necessarily best practice, in terms of their overall healing, to have them face in a room with the person who has perpetrated that trauma,” Williams said. “We’re going to have to comply with government regulations—but how can we do that in a way that is humane, is fair. So we’re struggling with what that will look like…and we don’t know if all the advocacy that was done in the open response time will have fallen on deaf ears, or not.”
As the Title IX office at Wesleyan awaits the finalization of new federal regulations, they remain committed to implementing trauma-informed policies.
“While the final regulatory changes will not be made until after public comment, we will continue to examine proposed regulatory changes and respond accordingly as the law is enacted,” wrote Colucci and Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley in a December 2018 email. “Our goal is to continue to implement trauma-informed policy, practices, and procedures that are responsive and fair for all parties.”
Any member of the Wesleyan community who has experienced sexual misconduct, whether in the form of intimate partner violence, non-consensual sexual activity and sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking or sexual harassment, is encouraged to speak with someone. For confidential conversations, please contact the Office of Survivor Advocacy and Community Education, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and/or the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. Anyone wishing to report an incident of misconduct is encouraged to contact the Title IX Office or Public Safety.
Jordan Saliby can be reached at email@example.com.