Knox College has officially made the transition to a single investigator model for cases of harassment and sexual misconduct. The change was prompted by criticism of the former Grievance Panel model, as well as suggestions from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
OCR recommends against students serving on Grievance Panels, a recommendation tha President Teresa Amott saw good reason for in the months leading up to the college’s decision.
Because of the small size of the Knox campus and the flexibility of a liberal arts curriculum, Amott points out that selecting a Grievance Panel that excluded persons who the survivor and the respondent might interact with was nearly impossible.
“There’s no way to anticipate who you might interact with,” Amott said, “I’ve spoken personally with survivors who have described the pain and uncertainty of not knowing whether they are going to walk around the corner and bump into someone.”
Under the new model, the college will hire a single investigator specializing in Title IX to address each case. Therefore, if multiple cases are brought forth, there will be the opportunity to address each of them promptly and without delay.
Excluding instances in which a hired investigator becomes ill or unable to continue their work, a single investigator will oversee the process from start to finish.
“Our hope is that it’s one person from start to finish, but we cannot always guarantee that this will be the case,” Amott said.
Both models have allowed for appeals under certain circumstances, but unlike the Grievance Panel, the investigator model will allow parties to appeal on the grounds that they believe the system is flawed. To correct this, parties can request an entirely new investigator for their case and essentially begin the investigation anew.
The Grievance Panels also had the tendency to be lengthy, sometimes lasting until 3 a.m. Furthermore, coordinating schedules so that all parties involved and all panel members could attend posed a challenge of its own.
“It would sometimes take two weeks to find the available time,” Amott said.
The new process involves three entities: the Title IX Coordinator, who works to ensure that Title IX is upheld throughout the case, the investigator who determines the facts of the case and finally, the Dean of Students, who determines the consequences of the violation.
The college’s Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader made it clear that an investigator model does not completely exclude involved parties from their case as the process unfolds. Reports are shared with each party and they are asked to review the parts that are relevant to them.
“They are given access to information as it evolves … and there is no limit on the amount of consultation they can have with the investigator,” Shrader said.
Associate Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Laura Schnack explained that while the investigations are an essential part of the college’s measures to protect survivors, other measures to ensure well-being are not being overlooked.
“It’s a process … and while a finding is important for closure it’s also about resources and support systems.” Schnack said.
Senior Erica Witzig has been a major proponent of the investigator model on campus, working with the Knox Power Alliance to spread awareness of Title IX issues.
“This new model has a tremendous capacity to right the wrongs of the previous model,” said Witzig.
However, she explained that the transition away from Grievance Panels should not lead students to believe that cases of sexual harassment and misconduct are handled without error.
“Be mindful of the fact that even with this new model, there is a huge chance for victims to be revictimized through victim blaming questions or extremely light sanctions being handed down,” Witzig said.