Section: Must read

College eliminates SMA confidentiality, hotline

College eliminates SMA confidentiality, hotline

The College will no longer allow the Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) to act as confidential resource or run their 24/7 hotline starting next year. While the SMAs will continue to act as a peer support group for students dealing with sexual misconduct and harassment, they can no longer say they are “confidential” because they will have to report instances of sexual misconduct to the Title IX office using the name of the reportee.

The SMAs are the latest peer support group to undergo changes to its structure and mission. About a month ago, the Director of the Health and Counseling Center Chris Smith curtailed the responsibilities of the Peer Counselors (PCs), a group dedicated to supporting students’ mental health, in a similar fashion.

“We are clarifying much like we did with the PCs that our students, unless they receive the requisite training, will not have legal confidentiality under the laws set forth in the state of Ohio,” Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Bonham ’92 said.

The SMAs currently report sexual assault, harassment and misconduct anonymously. They deliver written reports about what students tell them to the Cox Health and Counseling Center, but students’ names are not attached to these reports. Now, the SMAs must file reports with students’ names to the Title IX office. Upon receiving these reports, Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Samantha Hughes will reach out to the student and offer to meet with them.

Nick Massari ’18 and Hannah Anain ’19, two of the student leaders of the SMAs, want students to know that they do not have to meet with Hughes when she contacts them.

“When I see reports from the SMAs, if what is reported is a Title IX violation then I would … contact [the person who spoke with the SMA] via email,” Hughes said. “They never have to meet with me.” 

The SMAs provide “emotional first-aid” for students affected by sexual violence, harassment and misconduct and “align students, respondents and complaintaints with the Title IX process,” Massari said. He said he is hopeful that the SMAs can continue to fulfill this purpose.

“Going into the next year, Chris [Smith] really wants us to be education-based as well as prevention-based,” Massari said. “Going into this next year, we as SMAs, if we don’t have the phone for a semester or two in the capacity we want it, are going to try to fill in those gaps with education, prevention, thinking about ways we as an organization can continue to inform things like orientation week.” 

Massari and Anain are working with the administration to fill the void left by the 24/7 SMA hotline. They are in conversation with New Directions, a local domestic abuse and rape crisis center, to see if students in need could reach out to the New Directions hotline.

Massari and Anain said they realize this idea has its limitations, considering New Directions does not specialize in Title IX at Kenyon, a particularly complicated and education-specific legal process.

“In the same way we’re not necessarily qualified by law to be a confidential resource, [the SMAs] are students on campus that know the realities of the situation and we want to educate [New Directions] on Kenyon, how things go here and Title IX,” Massari said. “And they can educate us on what they do.”

In 2016, an outside firm performed an external review of the College’s implementation of Title IX. The report found that the SMAs were the “most frequently-used confidential resource” alongside the Counseling Center.

The majority of the feedback about the SMAs was positive: Students said they were “more likely to confide in their peers rather than non-adult peers” and relayed stories about times the SMAs “provided assistance and comfort to friends,” according to the report.

The report recommended that the College increase training for SMAs. Right now, the SMAs spend four days at the beginning of the school year in training workshops, but the College worries that they do not know when to refer students to professional counselors.

“My understanding is, because SMAs are undergraduate students, they haven’t earned their social work or psychology degree so therefore they lack the complete training necessary to do that type of assessment,” Hughes said.

In order to gain legal confidentiality in Ohio, the SMAs would have to undergo formal training. One option is a 40-hour training session with the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO). The SMAs are looking into the possibility of bringing SARNCO to campus.

“The SMAs are an asset to the Title IX process certainly, and whatever my office can do to help them continue in that role is what I want to do,” Hughes said.

After multiple requests, Smith declined to comment beyond the following statement: “Planned and proposed changes to Health and Counseling Center departmental organizations will provide the needed training and accountability to increase safety of Kenyon College’s peer-to-peer education and support.”

“We truly view each of our student groups as valuable partners to help the Cox Center support the student body,” Smith wrote.


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