On Tuesday afternoon Knox clubs Student Health Advocacy Group, Students Against Sexism in Society and Advocates for Choice co-sponsored an informational session to inform students on the college policies for reporting and handling sexual misconduct and assault on campus. The forum focused especially on clarifying the procedures of the Grievance Panel that sees cases reported to the Title IX team at Knox.
Distinguished Chair of History and Title IX team member Catherine Denial, who headed the forum, walked the students and faculty in attendance through the process of reporting sexual misconduct and assault. She later responded to questions from members of the audience.
Students in attendance were happy with the existence of the forum, but many still left with concerns regarding college policies on sexual assault and misconduct.
Freshman Miranda Adams, a member of Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention, appreciated that sessions like these contribute to transparency on campus and allow students to address their concerns with campus policies.
“There is a lot more to be done, but I think forums are definitely at least in part a way to go. … It creates a space for students who are interested in the changes happening on campus É and through these forums we get to directly speak with the people behind these policies, and who help implement these policies, and help enforce these policies, and it is giving a way for student voices to be heard. So I definitely think it’s a necessary step in achieving the culture that we want on campus.”
The Grievance Panel exists to evaluate cases of alleged sexual assault on campus and determine which college policies may have been violated. The panel is comprised of four people – ideally one student, one staff member and one faculty member, plus the Panel chair who does not vote. The Deans of Students give out sanctions based on information they are presented with by the Grievance Panel.
Professor of Biology Judy Thorn is chair of the Grievance Panel this year and served as a member during the 2012-2013 academic year.
“We’re evaluating the situation so the college can best decide how to proceed. … We are in theory neutral. We know very little about what is going on before we are in the room,” she said.
Freshman Laura Lee was concerned that there is not enough awareness on campus about college policies like the Grievance Panel.
“I don’t think this campus is well informed, at all, on what’s happening with Title IX,” she said. “I think faculty is trying to make a decent outreach on trying to inform the campus. But this is kind of a new thing that’s happening this year, and a lot of people have a lot of confusion about this and I don’t think these events are publicized well enough, and I personally don’t think a lot of students are as interested as they should be.”
Thorn said that she feels like the campus is generally willing to have conversations explaining policies like this to students.
“I think there’s a lot of things that people don’t think about until somebody says something about them. É I think in most cases people would be happy to sit down and tell you how it works, at least the things we can disclose. É When you work in a community of smart people who care about the world around them, why would you think that hiding anything is going to be a good choice?”
Many students brought up concerns with mandatory reporting policies and how they relate to the college’s compliance with Title IX. Freshman Ransom Smith emphasized that the emotional state of students needs to be kept in mind.
“Mandatory reporting, I think there should be multiple avenues, because even though it’s designed to weed out serial perpetrators, it’s going to still create an atmosphere where students are not going to be able to feel like they can confide in their RAs or faculty members without having to go through, what I think it has been understated is still a very stressful process and obviously a reliving of what happened by having to go to this panel. … It’s not to be taken lightly,” he said.
Lee mentioned that she feels like students may want to seek more informal resolutions which may not be possible with mandatory reporting in place.
“My main problem with the whole system is that they’re trying to fit every case into a one-line process, which I don’t think works out because personally, as myself, if I were sexually assaulted by someone I would want to confront them. I know not everybody has the confidence to do this, but I know that accusing someone of sexually assault can potentially screw over their life. É I think some people may have that confidence, but would prefer to have a faculty member or a staff member – someone they trust – be there to monitor the conversation, but in that case the professor would have to report it which leaves the student, which if they don’t want to screw over the other student, with no one to turn to.”
Thorn said that it is her understanding that there are situations where Title IX does not allow informal resolutions if a case of sexual assault comes to the attention of the college.
“There are potential situations, where the severity is high enough, that an informal resolution is not allowed – and that’s not just a college policy,” she said.
Smith said that he thinks the current system does not work for all circumstances and that other avenues need to be available for students to take.
“I think there need to be multiple options, and it can’t be a catchall for every student. For people who do want to proceed with this kind of action, I do think it’s a good method,” he said.
Adams said that she is hopeful that forums like these will encourage transparency amongst the faculty so that students will know they are addressing the issues they care about.
“Being transparent about the conversations that they’re having, because the forums are great É but we want to know that these ideas are being thought about actively, because we do want a change towards a consent culture that does not take power away from survivors, where there is a system of support and activism and understanding. We want to know that the faculty, staff, administrators, trustees are thinking about these issues.”
Adams mentioned that she thinks the Office of Civil Rights visiting campus will hopefully help the college to adjust their policies to better meet student needs.
“If people are worried about the OCR coming, it’s definitely a good thing. … The fact that these things are being looked into by the Office of Civil Rights is extremely encouraging,” she said.
Thorn agreed and noted that if the OCR gives her recommendations on how to change the Grievance Panel procedures, she would do so.
“To me, I look at the OCR coming to campus as an opportunity to make a process better. If I could get feedback from the OCR when they visit that I could implement immediately in a panel structure when they visit, I would do it.”