On Tuesday, June 9, Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Samantha Hughes held an open forum in which she discussed several upcoming changes to Kenyon’s Title IX policy. These changes are being made to comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s new regulations, which were made public on May 6 with a required implementation date of August 14.
Despite its status as a private institution, Kenyon is not exempt from these new regulations, as it receives federal funding, primarily in the form of financial aid.
“[Non-compliance] is not an option for Kenyon,” Hughes said, though she added that “there are spaces within the regulations where we do have some space to make some decisions that work best for our community.”
After communicating the information to students, employees and alumni, Hughes and the Office of Civil Rights will finalize a draft of the new policy and present it to the Board of Trustees later in June, with the goal of publishing it by July 1.
Hughes began the presentation to students by clarifying which aspects of Kenyon’s current Title IX policy will remain unchanged. The Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Coordinators will continue to manage the investigation process, and the College’s Office of Civil Rights will still receive reports and implement requested support measures. The behavioral expectations established in the 2015-16 academic year and the use of the Preponderance of the Evidence Standard to determine responsibility in formal complaints will also be upheld, and all Kenyon employees will remain mandatory reporters of Title IX violations.
Hughes urged the community to pay closest attention to the information coming directly from Kenyon. “I know there’s a whole lot in the news media, different groups are writing opinion pieces about the regulations,” Hughes said. “What you are held to, what we are held to, what I am held to, is what we document within our policy. And again, there are spaces for us to make some decisions, and that may be different on other campuses than it is here.”
Next, Hughes outlined the changes required by the Department of Education. These changes include a far narrower definition of sexual harassment and the mandatory implementation of a grievance process with a live hearing to address complaints of sexual harassment. These changes are described in-depth in a May 8 Collegian article.
By design, the new regulations mean fewer cases will qualify as Title IX violations. Hughes said the Office of Civil Rights plans to introduce procedures specifically to resolve the cases that are dismissed on those specific grounds. These include a formal grievance process, in which investigators make the decision, as well as an informal process, which would vary on a case-by-case basis. Informal resolution is prohibited under the College’s current policy, but will become an option under the new policy as long as all parties involved are willing.
In all cases, the Office of Civil Rights plans to make supportive measures available for students who need them. Supportive measures are any actions that provide help to the complainant (the person who makes the report) without predetermining the guilt of the respondent (the person on the receiving end of the report). One example of a supportive measure, Hughes explained, would be asking the respondent to sit in a different section of Peirce Dining Hall during lunch in order to minimize interaction with the complainant.
On the subject of the mandatory hearing for Title IX charges, Hughes stressed that one of the Office of Civil Rights’ top priorities is finding the most suitable people to serve on the hearing committee. The Office is also considering video meeting platforms, such as Zoom, as an option to host live hearings. This would minimize the risk of retraumatization by not forcing complainants to physically be in the same room as respondents, while allowing for the necessary people to all attend the hearing.
In emails/news bulletins announcing the event, students had been invited to submit questions about the changes via a Google Form, which Hughes answered at the end of the presentation. She confirmed that no-contact orders will remain intact, and students with no-contact orders will be hearing from the Office of Civil Rights directly about their cases.
When asked if there are any plans to put more funds towards counseling as a result of the new regulations, Hughes said that while the budget is not under her control, Kenyon’s priority is to get students the support they need.
“No matter what assistance a person needs, whether it’s on campus or if we need to connect them [to resources] outside, if there needs to be some financial support from the College, then we will do that,” Hughes said.
Hughes also encouraged students to contact the Department of Education with their thoughts and concerns regarding the new policy, such as the widely held fear that it may discourage reporting.
While the Office of Civil Rights’ hands are tied when it comes to much of the policy changes, Hughes says that getting students the support they need is still the first priority for her office.
“The regulations are really clear that we have to support everybody—which, again, Kenyon has always done,” Hughes said.
If you have any questions or concerns about the new Title IX regulations, you may contact Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or Civil Rights/Title IX Deputy Coordinator Kevin Peterson at email@example.com.