The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Knox College have come to a resolution agreement resolving six Title IX complaints, according to an email sent to the Knox community by President Teresa Amott. The investigation into the complaints began in early 2014.
In the email, Amott explained that several of the complaints regarded the College’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct. The OCR is a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, and students can file complaints with them when they feel their institution has violated Title IX.
The resolution agreement — which can be read here — references Docket 05-14-2047, which is comprised of complaints regarding Knox “failing to afford a prompt and equitable grievance procedure,” according to documents from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The OCR noted that while there was concern regarding to the grievance procedures in effect at the time of the complaints, they affirmed that the “College recognized and took affirmative steps to address and resolve” these concerns.
These steps included dissolving the grievance panel — under which students who reported sexual misconduct faced a panel of faculty, staff and students — and replacing it with a process involving one trained investigator. In a phone interview with TKS, Amott said that the decision to dissolve the grievance panel was based partly on the factor of timeliness, because the panel could not meet during breaks or the summer. Another factor was privacy.
“There were concerns that on a small campus, you could potentially be running into people who had been on the grievance panel,” Amott said, “Whether they were faculty, staff or fellow students and that that was painful to people, they had lost their privacy.”
According to a TKS article from 2015, the OCR submitted a statement to Knox in April of 2014 stating they believe it is inappropriate for students to serve on grievance panels. The panel method was removed by Knox in February of 2015.
In addition to dissolving the panel, other changes were made, including to the appeals panel, bystander training, preventative training, consent education, and training for faculty and staff. All of the changes were in efforts to change the culture on campus and make resources to students clear.
The OCR’s decision to resolve the complaints was due to these changes made by the college as a whole.
“They’re looking at four years of that process, of complaint responsiveness, etc., and saying now, at this stage in 2018, the institution has done quite a bit of work such that we judge it appropriate to close these cases,” Amott said. “It’s a totality, not just one case.”
Amott believes that the complaints gave the college an opportunity to improve, and that more reports of sexual misconduct shows signs of a changing culture.
“We think that sweeping it under the rug has made it harder to change the culture,” she said. “The fact that we got more complaints, gave us more opportunities to address conditions in the culture that we thought were creating sexual misconduct. “
In terms with the resolution, the College must continue its education and training programs and deliver reports to the OCR, as well as send individual letters to the students involved in the resolved complaints, explaining the changes in the grievance process and offering each student an opportunity to meet and share their concerns.
In addition to the six resolved complaints, there were three more: one which was administratively closed by the OCR, one was dismissed after similar allegations were raised in a lawsuit which ended in the college’s favor, and one which the OCR determined that their collected evidence did not “establish a violation of Title IX.”
According to the email, there are still three outstanding complaints which are being investigated.
A list of pending investigations— as of June 29, before the resolution agreement had been approved — can be found at the U.S. Department of Education’s website, by searching “Knox College.”
Students whose complaints were resolved by the resolution agreement should have already been notified by the OCR, according to Amott. Amott encourages students who feel that their Title IX rights have been violated to file a complaint with the OCR, and that the work is not finished.
“I think the work done by student activists and by the OCR has improved campus responsiveness to incidents of sexual misconduct,” she said. “But improvement is not perfection. We have a long ways to go still.”