When President Sean Decatur announced late Wednesday the College would charge a firm with conducting a comprehensive audit of Kenyon’s Title IX policy and procedures, the decision was a swift and necessary one. It was a decision that showed the administration is serious about reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus; it was also, unfortunately, an entirely reactive one.
As individual students, student groups and alumni responded to an alumnus’s open letter alleging the College mishandled his sister’s rape case last semester, one sad reality seemed to underscore discussion across campus: This is nothing new.
We dedicated our first issue of the year to stories regarding sexual misconduct. Throughout our time reporting on the Kenyon community we have heard numerous stories of students who have been dissatisfied with the way the College has processed cases of sexual misconduct under Title IX of the federal law banning sex discrimination in education. Even after the College adopted new Title IX procedures before the start of this academic year — which eliminated the conduct review process in which accuser and accused had to meet face-to-face — it’s not clear the policy is doing its job.
The finding Michael Hayes ’14, the alumnus, referenced in his letter was a product both of federal policy and of the College’s system of enforcing it. Those conducting the audit should take care to determine whether any issues they uncover are due to how the College has implemented government-mandated policies, or rather to flaws in the policies themselves; if the latter, the College should lobby the appropriate legislators to pass more survivor-centric laws.
Mark Ellis, Kenyon’s associate vice president for communications, wrote in an email to parents last night that, “the safety, health and well-being of Kenyon students is our foremost concern.” For the College to walk the walk, however, it needs to pull out all the stops in working toward a sensitive sexual misconduct adjudication system that delivers reliably just outcomes for survivors.
It’s encouraging to see students are talking about this important issue, both virtually and in public forums. We encourage you to keep the discussions alive. Hayes’s letter apprised many students of a fact of which Kenyon’s sexual misconduct advisors were already painfully aware: Kenyon is not the bubble we sometimes perceive it to be. Nor is any college. Not when a quarter of college women say they have been sexually assaulted. The only way to redress this crisis is through sustained conversation, activism and evaluation of how misconduct cases are carried out.