Beheard forum: Title IX reform

Photo by Suzette Guzman ‘18.

Photo by Suzette Guzman ‘18.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 11, Scripps students gathered in the Student Union for the week’s BeHeard Forum on Title IX and sexual assault on campus. Cofounder of Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault Olivia Buntaine ’15; peer health educator Alex Washburn ‘15 and Scripps Deputy Title IX coordinator Sally Steffen headed the event and presented on how to navigate Scripps’ sexual assault policies and relevant resources around the 5Cs. Their presentation was titled “Empowering Choices: Understanding Sexual Violence Support Resources and Reporting Options at Scripps College & the CUC [Claremont University Consortium].” 

Buntaine opened the presentation by stressing the importance of having conversations around the issue of sexual assault, saying, “I really believe that sexual violence, even though it’s really hard to talk about, is probably not going to go away until we all start to get better at vocalizing what we see... and part of that is understanding the policies that we all signed off on.” Before moving on to address Scripps’ policies specifically, she clarified what Title IX is and why it is so important, touching on the “Dear Colleague Letter,” which states that sexual misconduct should be included in the definition of interference in the right to an education free from discrimination. She noted that by drawing widespread attention to the issue, this letter drastically changed the way sexual misconduct is viewed on campuses across the country. 

Buntaine went on to address Scripps’ discrimination and harassment policies as well as its grievance procedures, and explained the complexity in policy that comes with being part of this consortium. “It’s important that you know that in terms of definitions, we’re in a really complicated situation,” she said. “First of all, there aren’t that many consortiums in the country, but even among consortiums, none of them function the way that ours does [because of the proximity of our campuses].” She proceeded to explain that because each school has its own grievance procedures, it is crucial that they work together to deal with cross-campus incidents, which make up the majority of the cases at the 5Cs. According to Sally Steffen, this is why the Title IX teams of each school meet bi-weekly and why the important definitions around sexual misconduct are consistent throughout the consortium. An important piece of information noted was that in cases of cross-campus incidents, the grievance procedures of the respondent’s school (the accused perpetrator’s school) apply. However, the presenters assured the students that due to the constant communication between Title IX offices, none of the procedures are drastically different. 

The next major topic the presenters covered was the role of “REs,” or “Responsible Employees.” This included who they are, what their responsibilities are, and how they are trained to do their best to ensure that students understand these responsibilities before disclosing to them information about an incident. An important and commonly-asked question was: if a student discloses information to an RE, will the Title IX case proceed regardless of whether or not the student wants it to? Buntaine responded, “The Title IX team’s priorities are for the survivors to regain control over the process… Disclosure to the alleged perpetrator or the college is not automatic, and neither is the grievance process… Confidentiality is only going to be superseded in the limited circumstances in which there is an immediate threat of danger to the survivor or to the greater community, [which] is a minority of cases.” She explained that although this “grey area” tends to make people uneasy, it actually allows for much more flexibility in the process than a “hard and fast rule” would, and that the latter would be more likely to force students into a reporting process that they did not want.

The final section of the presentation, led by Alex Washburn, was about supporting survivors. She addressed a multitude of aspects and methods of support that went far beyond reporting. As Buntaine pointed out, “There is no right, wrong or normal way to respond to an incident of sexual violence, and as allies of survivors on this campus, we need to understand that reporting is the right option for some people and not for others.” The three general types of support addressed were physical, psychological/emotional and academic. Washburn highlighted the resources available to a survivor post-assault, which included calling Campus Safety or the RA on call to ensure the survivor’s physical safety in that moment, as well as getting a SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) exam at the Pomona Valley Hospital to preserve evidence and receive medical assistance to ensure future physical health. Washburn added, “An important thing to know is that a survivor can get the exam without deciding to proceed with criminal charges,” and that “the evidence will be stored for fifteen days after the exam” in case a survivor decides to use it. She highly recommended Project Sister as a support resource for this process; a survivor can access the organization by calling the hotline and requesting an advocate. According to Washburn, Project Sister can provide transportation and support for the survivor, and because they are familiar with the process and the survivor’s rights, they can ensure that the survivor does not have to pay for any medical costs including emergency contraception, prophylactics and testing for STI’s [Sexually Transmitted Infections], among other things.

Washburn wrapped up the presentation by noting that it is important for students to be aware that these medical services are available at Planned Parenthood and Student Health Services, both of which are confidential. She also mentioned that Plan B is available for $20 without an appointment at Student Health Services during business hours, and starting this year, 24/7 5C access to it and other supplies for the same price in a vending machine on the second floor of Walker Lounge at Pomona. Buntaine said earlier in the presentation that the most important part of all of this is, “The survivor needs to understand their options and have control over their path after their assault, which is why trying to disseminate this information is so, so important."