Section: News

Title IX audit results ‘unsurprising’

On Dec. 2, the College publicly released a Report of External Review of the College’s compliance with Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which are federal policies that addresses forms of sexual and gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, bullying and retaliation, according to the College’s website. The audit report analyzed existing policy, evaluated the College’s training and education efforts and reviewed feedback from students, community members, alumni and parents.

The College contracted independent Title IX investigator and consultant Rebecca Veidlinger to conduct the audit. Veidlinger worked with a steering committee that was chaired by Trustee Ruth Ann Fisher P’17 and Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Professor of English Ted Mason, and included other faculty and student representation. Veidlinger’s work began in July 2016 and culminated in a 46-page report. The report included anecdotal evidence from her campus visit and data from reports and records kept by the College’s Office of Civil Rights and Title IX office.

Some of the major findings included that the Title IX investigation process was too long, though the policy itself was compliant with current laws. The report also noted that education efforts surrounding Title IX issues could be improved throughout a student’s Kenyon career. Veidlinger further recommended clarifying language in to the policy itself, especially in relationship with language inclusive to LGBTQ+ students.

“There wasn’t anything that was surprising to me, which was a relief,” Civil Rights and Title IX coordinator Samantha Hughes said.

“I tried to reflect the hard data … but also to reflect back what I was hearing from community members,” Veidlinger said, noting how important it was to the steering committee to capture the Kenyon community in the report. w

While she was conducting the audit, the College was placed under investigation by the federal U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in a separate evaluation of policies and procedures.

The audit report noted that, of 16 completed Title IX investigations, in the 2015-2016 year, only one survivor chose to pursue a criminal investigation. The median length of a Title IX investigation was 52.5 days, according to the report. Veidlinger concluded that the length of investigations was “a problem area,” due to multiple student complaints that the length was one of the most challenging parts of the process, and that the College’s investigations were always generally longer than its goal length of 30 days.   

Veidlinger further reported hearing from Kenyon’s LGBTQ+ community that there was confusion regarding the written Title IX policy, and a major recommendation of the audit was to clarify the policy’s language with respect to LGBTQ+ students. She reccomended consulting students to make the policy’s language more inclusive.        

The report indicated that more support and resources were necessary for respondents in investigations of sexual misconduct. Veidlinger noted in the report that some SMAs reported a potential unwillingness to advise respondents due to their “feelings of alignment with victims of sexual assault.”

“It’s hard no matter what side of the situation you’re on,” Hughes said, “and everyone deserves to be supported.”

The audit assessed the value of Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) as a resource for students on campus, and recommended that they receive “more rigorous and effective” training throughout the year. “I’m glad the writer of the report seems understand the importance of the SMAs,” SMA Juliet Warren ’17 wrote in a Facebook message to the Collegian. “We will continue to aim to enhance our training and our presence on campus.”

The report recommended that Kenyon further improve its education efforts throughout a student’s time at the College. In response to the report’s assessment that students decline to attend mandatory Beer and Sex meetings, Hughes said, “Mandatory at Kenyon is never well-received … we took the step this year to implement online training because we wanted the entire community to have baseline knowledge.”

Some individuals were unsatisfied by the observations and recommendations in the report. “It still left a lot of issues unaddressed,” a female student and survivor of sexual assault, who spoke to the Collegian on the condition of anonymity, said. “Me and many others talked [with Veidlinger] about a feeling of a lack of safety on campus and a lack of clear interim measures and sanctions after finding responsibility. As far as I can tell, those concerns were largely ignored in the report.”

She felt the College’s process had a lack of consistency in interim measures during an investigation and the punishments for respondents to claims of sexual assault, as she said they were not effectively addressed in the report. The student said she read the report immediately after it was released.

Veidlinger said she felt she addressed these concerns reported to her via her interviews with students, which took place earlier in the semester. “I don’t know what else I could have done,” she said. Responding to the reports of inconsistancy, she cited her recommendation to create a protocol in regard to no-contact orders —  a specific way the College may keep students involved in process away from each other while on campus together. “I’m not necessarily going to say the protocol should be X, Y or Z because I think it differs from campus to campus,” Veidlinger said. “I didn’t necessarily see my role as setting policy.”

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