Section: News

College sees increase in reported instances, administrators cite policy changes

On Monday, Sept. 16, Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Sam Hughes sent out a news bulletin highlighting the year-in changes and updates at the Office of Civil Rights.

The email recounted new hires, such as the arrival of Kevin Peterson as Civil Rights/Title IX Deputy Coordinator on June 1, 2018, as well as programming efforts, such as Occidental College Associate Professor of Sociology Lisa Wade’s discussion of campus hookup culture. It also highlighted new policies and data on incident reports of harassment, divided into the three categories: Section 504/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination/discriminatory harassment and Title IX/The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)/Title VII.

Although the past two academic years saw a growth in the total number of reports from 216 to 310, President Sean Decatur and Hughes attribute the increased number to changes in the Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment policies, as well as students’ heightened awareness of the Office of Civil Rights as an available resource.

Decatur pointed out that the highest increase occurred under the umbrella of discrimination and discriminatory harrassment cases, from a total of 25 reports over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years to 47 total reports over 2017-18 and 2018-19. He also noted that the new policy brought the discrimination policy more in line with the College’s current Title IX policies. Previously, there were no clear guidelines for what constituted discriminatory harassment, and, along with updated definitions, the policy change redesigned the reporting structure to resemble those of Title IX and ADA.

“All of this, I think, is a good thing,” Decatur said of the new policy and its effects, “but the conversation around that and the broader discussion around that issue lead to more reporting—which generally I think is good. I don’t think there is more harassment. I just think there are more people coming forward with harassment [reports].”

The number of reports that fell under the umbrella of Title IX/VAWA/Title VII also saw an increase, from 184 to 237 reports, though the percentage of these reports as a proportion of all reports was deflated due to the increase in discrimination and discriminatory harassment reports, falling from 85 percent to 76.5 percent. Reports under the umbrella of Section 504/ADA remained relatively stable, with a slight uptick from six reports to seven.

Both Hughes and Decatur emphasized their belief that the increased number of reports is not evidence of more instances of sexual and discriminatory harassment, but rather of an increased awareness of the resources the College offers.

“I don’t think there’s more happening, I just think people are more comfortable coming forward,” Hughes said.

While there was an increase in the total number of incidents reported to the Office of Civil Rights, there was a decrease in the number of formal investigations opened, which went down from 26 to 18. However, the number of informal resolutions increased from one to five.

Since reporting is a voluntary action, it is hard to determine the number of incidents that are actually occurring. That said, Hughes says gets a good sense of how Kenyon’s culture compares to those of other schools.

“I will say at least the number of cases reported is very similar to our peer schools,” Hughes said. “We are at least doing something right. I think we can always do better, but I think the barriers to reporting are almost as unique as our fingerprints … there are so many reasons why people choose to report or not, so we try to eliminate those and make it as smooth as possible, but it’s hard to know, it’s really hard to know.”

The Higher Education Data Consortium (HEDS) Campus Climate Survey for 2019, which will come out in late September or early October, will provide even more information about Kenyon’s institutional data and how it compares nationwide.

A final point in the news bulletin regards the United States Department of Education’s new proposed guidelines to replace the interim federal guidance issued in Sept. 2017. The Department of Education set the deadline for final guidance for “09/00/19,” presumably some time in September of this year. The most notable proposed change would be how formal investigations for Title IX would be carried out. Rather than the current investigator model, which Hughes called more “fair, thorough and efficient,” the new guidelines would force the College to use a hearing model, which Hughes said is “faster but more intense.”

Hughes said the College is monitoring these proposed guidelines and will issue a notice if new changes go into effect.

The print edition of this article is headlined “Title IX policy updated to include discriminatory incidents.” The headline has been updated online to accurately reflect that the Title IX policies and discrimination and discriminatory harassment policies fall under different umbrellas. The Collegian regrets this error. 

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