Section: News

College implements training to address gender divide

College implements training to address gender divide

By Maya Kaufman

Ask any student who arrived on campus early for Community Advisor (CA), Upperclass Counselor or athletic training, and they’ll likely say they spent more time than previous years learning about Title IX. There has been a push to understand both national and Kenyon policies regarding the sexual misconduct aspects of the law, with faculty and administrators receiving training over the summer as well. 

Neither national nor College policies have changed, but as more high-profile campus sexual assault cases receive national attention, the pressure on higher education institutions to enforce existing policies is mounting.

Mariam El-Shamaa, Kenyon’s Title IX coordinator since 2009 and director of equal opportunity, said, “Recently there’s been so much attention on this topic that it’s become … very clear to people that this is something that needs to be taken seriously.”

What is Title IX?

Title IX is a 1972 law that primarily serves to prevent gender discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding, such as college athletic teams, but the statute also holds schools individually responsible for addressing and preventing cases of sexual assault. Schools that fit into this category — like many higher education institutions — are also required to have Title IX coordinators to manage complaints of sexual misconduct, which can include sexual harassment, violence and assault. 

With 76 colleges as of August under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling cases of sexual assault, the White House has introduced many initiatives to clarify colleges’ responsibilities regarding Title IX and sexual misconduct. These efforts include a task force, President Barack Obama’s March reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and a Q-and-A published in April by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), all of which served to clarify exactly what a college’s Title IX responsibilities are.

“There was a lack of clarity about what the OCR, what the Department of Education, was requiring of us,” El-Shamaa said.

Head Women’s Basketball Coach Suzanne Helfant, who also serves as a senior women’s administrator and a Title IX coordinator for women in athletics at the College, said, “The change in policy is not really a change of policy. It’s just more of an awareness that these are our responsibilities.”

Impact of Title IX on Kenyon

Due to the recent national and federal attention focused on Title IX, lack of awareness about its policies has become inexcusable. During this year’s New Student Orientation, first-years were required to attend a session on Kenyon’s sexual misconduct policies, in addition to “Real World: Gambier,” a short skit that illustrates the issue.

CAs also received hours of extensive Title IX training. Jill Engel-Hellman, Kenyon’s new director of housing and residential life, assisted with the training, and currently holds a position at Kenyon as a deputy Title IX coordinator. 

“I think one of the misconceptions is that gender equity only benefits one gender,” Hellman, formerly a Title IX coordinator at Denison University, said. “[Title IX] is meant to make sure that everyone on a college campus, regardless of their gender, has equal opportunity.”

A substantial part of CA training focused on mandated reporting, which is required of all employees of the College. Mandated reporting means that employees are required to notify a Title IX coordinator of any information they hear regarding sexual misconduct. Only health care workers, including counselors at the Counseling Center, and clergy are exempt.

Trevor Kirby ’16 said that the increased Title IX training for CAs has made him more comfortable with the prospect of handling cases of sexual misconduct.

“In the past, we were told that we were ‘mandated reporters,’ but we weren’t really given the background of where that information was going, who it was going to,” Kirby said. “But I think this year they really stressed what exactly the process looks like.”

The Problem of Underreporting

El-Shamaa hopes that an increased understanding of mandated reporting will counteract the drastic underreporting of cases of sexual misconduct. A 2007 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice stated that one in five women will be a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault while attending college, yet many school’s sexual misconduct numbers are much lower. Last year, Kenyon reported 18 incidents of non-consensual sexual intercourse on campus.

Underreporting may be due to the belief that reporting incidents can have negative repercussions for the victim. (A New York Times story on a sexual assault case at Hobart and William Smith Colleges published in July was entitled, “Reporting Rape and Wishing She Hadn’t.”)

“I think getting better, clearer information out to students about … what will happen … and what will not happen if you report will ease many students’ fears about reporting,” El-Shamaa said.

Campaign for Prevention

Ultimately, by emphasizing the enforcement of Title IX policies, the College hopes to better understand how to prevent these incidents from occurring. President Sean Decatur emphasized the importance of maintaining an ongoing conversation on the issue of sexual misconduct.

The College wants to “make sure that everyone on campus understands what the issue is about,” Decatur said. “There were several panels and events last year around the issues of definition of consent … and we’re just going to continue along those paths this year on the education [and] prevention front.”

Patrick Gilligan, director of counseling services, and Counselor Mike Durham are currently planning a series of workshops focused on preventing sexual misconduct, with the intention of keeping the conversation going.

“I think the mandates flowing from Title IX are a little too heavily loaded towards mandated reporting and administrative responses and judicial processes,” Gilligan said. “To a lesser degree, Title IX gives consideration to preventing sexual assault, and I think that’s where most of our collective efforts need to be.”

The workshops, which will occur throughout the academic year, will solicit students’ thoughts on the potential causes and contributing factors of the issue. 

“Maybe the reason that sexual assault persists is because we don’t know enough yet to create collective and meaningful solutions,” Gilligan said. 

women in athletics at the College, said, “The change in policy is not really a change of policy. It’s just more of an awareness that these are our responsibilities.”

Impact of Title IX on

Kenyon

In light of recent national and federal attention focused on Title IX, the College decided to raise awareness of the law’s conditions. During this year’s New Student Orientation, first-years were required to attend a session on Kenyon’s sexual misconduct policies, in addition to “Real World: Gambier,” a short skit that illustrates the issue.

CAs also received hours of extensive Title IX training. Jill Engel-Hellman, Kenyon’s new director of housing and residential life, assisted with the training and currently holds a position at Kenyon as a deputy Title IX coordinator. 

“I think one of the misconceptions is that gender equity only benefits one gender,” Hellman, formerly a Title IX coordinator at Denison University, said. “[Title IX] is meant to make sure that everyone on a college campus, regardless of their gender, has equal opportunity.”

A substantial part of CA training focused on mandated reporting, which is required of all employees of the College. Mandated reporting means that employees are required to notify a Title IX coordinator of any information they hear regarding sexual misconduct. Only health care workers, including counselors at the Counseling Center, and clergy are exempt.

Trevor Kirby ’16 said that the increased Title IX training for CAs has made him more comfortable with the prospect of handling cases of sexual misconduct.

“In the past, we were told that we were ‘mandated reporters,’ but we weren’t really given the background of where that information was going, who it was going to,” Kirby said. “But I think this year they really stressed what exactly the process looks like.”

The Problem of

Underreporting

El-Shamaa hopes that an increased understanding of mandated reporting will counteract the drastic underreporting of cases of sexual misconduct. A 2007 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice stated that one in five women will be a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault while attending college, yet many school’s sexual misconduct numbers are much lower. Last year, Kenyon reported 18 incidents of non-consensual sexual intercourse on campus.

Underreporting may be due to the belief that reporting incidents can have negative repercussions for the victim. A July New York Times article entitled “Reporting Rape and Wishing She Hadn’t” was one of many that have adressed this idea. 

“I think getting better, clearer information out to students about … what will happen … and what will not happen if you report will ease many students’ fears about reporting,” El-Shamaa said.

Campaign for Prevention

Ultimately, by emphasizing the enforcement of Title IX policies, the College hopes to better understand how to prevent these incidents from occurring. President Sean Decatur emphasized the importance of maintaining an ongoing conversation on the issue of sexual misconduct.

The College wants to “make sure that everyone on campus understands what the issue is about,” Decatur said. “There were several panels and events last year around the issues of definition of consent … and we’re just going to continue along those paths this year on the education [and] prevention front.”

Patrick Gilligan, director of counseling services, and Counselor Mike Durham are currently planning a series of workshops focused on preventing sexual misconduct, with the intention of keeping the conversation going.

“I think the mandates flowing from Title IX are a little too heavily loaded towards mandated reporting and administrative responses and judicial processes,” Gilligan said. “To a lesser degree, Title IX gives consideration to preventing sexual assault, and I think that’s where most of our collective efforts need to be.”

The workshops, which will occur throughout the academic year, will solicit students’ thoughts on the potential causes and contributing factors of the issue. 

“Maybe the reason that sexual assault persists is because we don’t know enough yet to create collective and meaningful solutions,” Gilligan said. 

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