by Lauren Eller and Gabrielle Healy
Over the past year, Kenyon has made sweeping changes in the way it handles cases of sexual misconduct, implementing a new policy and mode of adjudication that applies to students, faculty and staff as well as increaseing training in dealing with reports of assault.
Kenyon is one of many colleges across the country enacting such policy changes in the wake of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which says federally funded colleges must provide annual training and educational opportunities to students and employees in accordance with Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education.
Colleges have been scrambling to comply with the law before and since VAWA regulations went into effect on July 1.
The College’s efforts to revamp its sexual misconduct policies have led to an extensive revision of its student handbook as well as the adoption of an investigator model for resolving cases of sexual mis
conduct in place of a conduct hearing. The College implemented the investigator model on July 1.
The hearing board was privy to all evidence, and hearings frequently lasted for hours, directly after which the board proceeded to evaluate the information presented.
A survivor of sexual misconduct, who asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of the subject, said that after reporting the incident they did not want to enter any sort of conduct review process either within the College or outside it.
“Only having to tell your story once, I think that’s one of the investigator model’s biggest benefits,” the survivor said. “Just functioning at any level was hard enough, and if I had to go through that on top of it … I wouldn’t have stayed above water.”
While the hearing board that once played a crucial role in cases of sexual misconduct has been replaced with an investigator model, it remains in place for handling academic infractions and other types of misconduct at the College. These hearing boards are comprised of faculty and students, though neither group was specifically trained to handle cases of sexual misconduct, and prior to this year was not required to have official Title IX training.
The new system using the investigator model will only be in place if one chooses to file a formal complaint. People were allowed to follow the informal hearings instead of submitting a formal complaint that would lead to an official hearing in front of the board comprised of fellow students and College faculty.
Samantha Hughes, director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said the new investigator model “just feels a little more humane in some ways.”
The investigator model calls for the introduction of two lead investigators, at least one of whom may not be affiliated with the College in any other capacity. The second investigator may be affiliated with the College, but is not required to be. After deliberation, the two investigators draft a report, which the complainant and respondent receive and to which they have five days to respond.
“That’s when they really start to see what the other side is saying,” Hughes said. “And if they have follow-up information, then they can tell the investigators and the investigators go back out, they find out the answers to those questions, and include that in the report.”
Linda Smolak, Kenyon’s deputy Title IX and civil rights coordinator, said some people at Kenyon now undergo training who did not receive any before. “The law doesn’t require you to train the whole campus, but [we do] because of how we define responsible employees,” Smolak said. According to Smolak, last year the College had six Title IX-trained individuals; this year there are 12.
Andrea Goldblum, the College’s Title IX and civil rights coordinator, said different levels of training are required depending on a person’s role on campus. “For those who might receive reports of sexual misconduct, they have to have more extensive training,” Goldblum said. She added there are minimum training thresholds specified by VAWA but that “we want to go well beyond that.”
Those required to receive training in this new system include College employees — including student employees and other individuals who are deemed mandatory reporters — new staff members and varsity athletes. This training involves defining sexual misconduct, education about consent and other specifics surrounding confidentiality depending on the audience. Confidentiality varies among positions within the College. The term mandated reporter refers to the requirement that many employees of the College, including student employees and members of groups such as the Peer Counselors and Diversity Advisors, contact their supervisor or the Title IX coordinator in instances where they have knowledge of sexual misconduct.
The term “One Policy, One Process,” refers to the new uniformity of procedure for Kenyon faculty, staff and students on issues of sexual misconduct, which additionally went into effect on July 1. Previously, different methods and procedures existed for reporting and handling sexual misconduct cases involving students, faculty and other employees of the College.
India Amos contributed reporting. Illustration by Elizabeth Norman.