Rachel Farber '16Assistant News Editor
Last fall, Smith decided to conduct a self-audit of its Title IX policies and procedures regarding sexual assault response. Smith hired law firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP to help review and evaluate the policies and procedures.
At the same time, the college was in the process of hiring Dwight Hamilton as chief diversity officer, who started his position last spring, and Sarah Herebo, the new Title IX coordinator, who began her position in August. During this gap, Hamilton served as interim Title IX Coordinator.
One of Hamilton’s first initiatives was to examine the self-audit that had been conducted in the fall and determine if the current policy suited the Smith community. Over the summer, student focus groups evaluated the policy. The main criticism of this initiative was that only students on campus during the summer could participate in the focus groups, as well as the rush to work through student feedback in order to settle on a policy in time for the new school year.
While the new sexual assault and response policy is in its completion phase and has not yet been published, certain changes regarding the Conduct Board and mandated reporting have been made known to some.
“The feedback we have gotten both within our own community and a recommendation from the federal government is reconsidering student boards,” Julianne Ohotnicky, dean of students, said. “Our Student Conduct Board [formerly known as Judicial Board] did hear cases of sexual misconduct. That won’t be the case moving forward. It will be members of the faculty and staff or the Five College community – all trained to hear cases – who will hear cases in the future.”
Ohotnicky explained that students in focus groups largely influenced the policy changes this past summer.
“What has been important to us in this process is to keep having conversations with faculty, staff and students about what’s right in our community. And we often see the recognition that when we talk to students, students didn’t want peers hearing their cases. The federal government says that same thing,” Ohotnicky said.
Another change in policy comes in the guidelines for mandated reporters. Mandated reporters on campus include all employees of the college, with the exception of Counseling Services, Health Services and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, who are deemed clergy.
In previous years, mandated reporters were obligated to report incidents of sexual assault or misconduct that was brought to their attention, but they were only required to report that an incident took place.
This year, the new policy states that any information made known to a mandated reporter, such as names, must be reported to the Title IX office. This is so that the Title IX office can contact students with appropriate resources. Students who are contacted do not need to respond.
Ohotnicky suggests that conversations around sexual assault on campus are becoming increasingly normalized.
“Since 2006, when I got here, I think we talk about support and process more than we ever have... I think... as our reporting numbers are growing, it means we’re doing good work in terms of educating students about what the processes are and what the support systems are to help them,” she said.
Office of Residence Life student staff members are slowly being updated about policy, but there is still confusion among the rest of the student body regarding policy, including where to actually find it.
“People don’t know their resources at all, I think,” said one student staff member of Residence Life who asked to remain anonymous. “Most people are unsure of the role of Res Life. They think that the school will pressure them to act, and they think that they have to respond to emails from the Title IX office if they get contacted, which leads to a gray area where people don’t ask if it doesn’t apply to them, and if it does apply to them, [they] are too afraid to ask. People don’t trust the system because they don’t get it.”
Another student staff member of Residence Life – who also wished to remain anonymous – added, “I’ve heard multiple people speaking hypothetically, saying that they would never report because they know that nothing would happen or that it would be a waste of time in the end. Even if they have a vague idea, they don’t know where to start, or what is going to happen if they decide to report.”
The new Title IX sexual assault policy should be finished and published within the next couple of weeks, according to Ohotnicky.