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College working to make language in Title IX more inclusive

Title IX Coordinator Samantha Hughes and several members of the LGBTQ+ advisory board are reworking the College’s Title IX language to be more inclusive of the needs of non-cisgender and non-heterosexual students. Hughes hosted a meeting on April 3 during Common Hour to listen to complaints that members of the advisory board had with the current policy’s language and brainstorm solutions. 

The meeting was a response to the systematic investigation of Kenyon’s Title IX compliance conducted last year by independent investigator Rebecca Veidlinger. More specifically, the College is looking into a complaint by members of the LGBTQ community that the language of the College policy was heteronormative and not inclusive. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sexual and gender-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. Kenyon’s own policy is in place to establish College-specific rules for compliance and outline prohibited acts, case evaluation procedures and potential sanctions.

While multiple members of the advisory board volunteered to attend the April 3 meeting, the only two members of the board to attend were Anna Libertin ’18 and Robert A. Oden, Jr. Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski. At the meeting, Slonczewski, Libertin and Hughes received the Title IX policy line-by-line to highlight potential problem areas. The group primarily dealt with the section describing what the College defines as non-consensual sexual intercourse. Slonczewski declined to comment.

Hughes said the Title IX audit reported that a student said they had been sexually assaulted, but found that their assault was defined as a less serious infraction under the current policy, and felt uncomfortable coming forward. Hughes said this came as a shock to her.

“The audit was the first time that I had heard of that happening,” Hughes said. “I’m sure that there are more people out there, and I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re excluded from the policy.”

The policy’s current language separates prohibited conduct into two categories: non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact. Contact covers any intentional touching of “intimate parts” of another person, including the buttocks, breasts and genitals, while intercourse includes vaginal or anal penetration with genitals or mouth. The audit reported concerns that some actions included in the first category feel just as violating to LGBTQ+ students, and these actions deserved to be part of the intercourse category. The new language will make it so that any attempt to “cause climax,” such as non-consensual genital stimulation, will be categorized as intercourse, rather than just non-consensual sexual contact. While non-consensual sexual contact is not punished as harshly, non-consensual sexual intercourse automatically requires a dismissal, suspension or termination of employment if the perpetrator is found guilty.

“I know of several members of the community that felt uncomfortable coming forward because they couldn’t find what happened to them in the policy,” Libertin said. “The language just didn’t fit their situation, and there was a distrust there.”

Hughes said that, even if a certain infraction was not a clear-cut example of non-consensual sexual intercourse, the Office for Civil Rights still could have dealt with it as if it were an example of non-consensual intercourse. The only problem, according to Hughes, was it was highly experienced based, not standardized, and had to be judged on a case-by-case basis. A person filing a complaint can choose to label something that would technically be defined as non-consensual contact as intercourse, but that decision is subsequently up to Title IX adjudicators.

“An adjudicator can decide that even if it doesn’t fit the policy, it deserves a suspension or expulsion,” Hughes said. “But someone reading the policy at 2 a.m. isn’t going to be able to know or understand that, and that’s a problem.”

Libterin said she was pleased with the way that Hughes handled the changes, and that it marked a departure from how issues like this have been handled in the past. In particular, Libertin said she appreciated how open and receptive Hughes was to the proposed changes.

“Once a campus where I’ve tried to make change happen without any progress being made, it was very satisfying to be able to come out of Peirce with actual changed sentences,” Libertin said.

The new language will go into effect in July, after which it will officially be a part of the policy.

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