The first sentence in the section of the Office for Civil Rights’ Q&A on Title IX that deals with retaliation is short. “Does Title IX protect against retaliation?” The answer: “Yes.”
The first sentence in the paragraph of Knox’s manual on sexual discrimination detailing the college’s retaliation policy contains 45 words.
Both summarize the protections guaranteed to those who participate in some way in the Title IX process, but some members of the Knox community believe that the school’s policy could be clearer about who it affects and how.
Knox’s retaliation policy differs little from most college and university retaliation policies, according to Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich. She added that it is legally compliant and adheres to OCR guidelines. But now, Knox, like many other institutions around the country, may look into making the policy something more than just compliant: accessible.
“Students want to live in a campus community that is comfortable and safe, where they’re free to express when they feel something has been done wrong to them,” Ehrlich said. “That is the purpose of a retaliation policy. … It’s hard to do that sometimes when the language reads as a legal document.”
The retaliation policy’s wording and practical application were discussed at length during last Wednesday’s open forum, which Ehrlich organized.
Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Senior Rachael Morrissey, who participated in the forum, said she became familiar with the policy when she went through the Title IX process at Knox.
She remembers receiving an email when she began the process that explained that the retaliation policy works both ways, meaning it protects alleged perpetrators from threats or coercion as well. While Morrissey understands and appreciates this commitment to fairness, she felt the policy was later misused to silence survivors.
Morrissey explained that just before studying abroad, she learned that a member of her grievance panel would be attending the same program.
Morrissey explained that just before studying abroad, she learned that a member of her grievance panel would be attending the same program. She wanted to speak with the individual to ensure the confidentiality of her case during their time abroad together but said she was informed by the administration that this would be considered retaliation.
Morrissey wants an updated policy to clarify what qualifies as retaliation and to describe the sort of investigations and standards of evidence that would follow a retaliation complaint.
“I would like [the policy] to be very clear about what retaliation is, who it’s supposed to protect and also be able to give examples of what actions are considered retaliatory,” Morrissey said. “Nowhere in [the current] policy does it make clear that survivors are the priority.”
Senior Juanpablo Ramirez also offered his perspective on the policy to TKS.
Ramirez recalled hearing briefly about the policy when a friend became concerned over something they said a male student had done to them but felt afraid that this student could retaliate through the school if they decided to bring it to Knox’s attention.
After reading — and re-reading — the policy in the Gizmo this Wednesday, Ramirez expressed his confusion.
“It’s actually pretty unclear,” he said. “ I think there’s only one sentence that I can understand.”
Ramirez plans on attending one of the upcoming forums, scheduled for May 4 and May 18 at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Room, in order to learn more and show his support.
Ehrlich hopes interested students will join her at the forums in helping to create a clearer, more accessible draft of the policy.
“There’s no better way to write a student-friendly retaliation policy than to have students help write it,” Ehrlich said.
She believes a new version of the policy could be ready and implemented by the start of Fall Term.