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Title IX consultants reignite sexual misconduct discussion

By Kevin Hong

After an increase in adjudicated sexual misconduct cases and intense discussion of the issue last spring, sexual misconduct was again a focus of the campus conversation this week as consultants arrived to review the College’s policies.

The consultants, Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, both former prosecutors of sexual assault cases and now with the law firm Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia, held two public presentations Tuesday in addition to private discussions with administrators.

The presentations focused on statistics on sexual misconduct and the legal requirements under Title IX for colleges’ sexual misconduct policies. According to the consultants, statistics suggest as many as 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported nationally. They said about 2 to 8 percent of reports are false reports.

“Our review of the policies and procedures in place show us that there is work to be done, but our interactions with Grinnellians have given us every confidence that the work is within Grinnell’s reach,” Smith wrote in an email.

Smith said the consultants are working on making sure all Grinnellians know how to report sexual misconduct and have access to user-friendly information on the subject. She said that they would make recommendations on education, prevention policies and administrative organization on the issue.

“A key step in defining the college’s response is to clarify and articulate the roles of the individuals and departments responsible for student conduct, campus safety, counseling, human resources and Title IX compliance,” she said in the email.

Dean of Students Travis Greene said that now is a good time to be examining these issues.

“We’ve had a renewed focus on supporting students who go through this,” Greene said. “So it’s always been a part of our consciousness, but it is even more so this year, given everything that happened last spring.”

According to a report from the Division of Student Affairs, the College Hearing Board heard six cases of sexual misconduct last spring. In four of the cases, the respondent was found responsible for sexual misconduct and in two, the respondent was found not responsible.

This number of cases before the Hearing Board is a large increase from previous years. In the 2010-2011 academic year, a student affairs report shows the Hearing Board heard only one case of sexual misconduct and found the respondent not responsible. In 2009-2010, Hearing Board heard two cases of sexual misconduct and one of sexual harassment, finding the respondent responsible in all of them.

Of the four students found responsible this spring, one was expelled, one was suspended, one was banned from living in residence halls and one was issued a warning and no contact letter. A range of other outcomes were also handed down by the Hearing Board in these cases, including psychological evaluations and meetings with Greene.

The consultants explained that when colleges increase discussions about sexual misconduct, they see an increase in the number of cases reported because people are encouraged to come forward.

Deanna Shorb, who is Dean of Religious Life and works with Campus Advocates on sexual misconduct prevention and response, agreed with this explanation, as did Greene.

“Last spring was an intense time for the entire community, and we did see a significant number of cases go through the College Hearing Board, but I’d be cautious to draw the correlation that we actually had an increase in such cases,” Greene said.

“Some of the folks who have reported it were taking their cases forward and found that they were having outcomes that they felt were fair, and that [made] it not seem like it’s just a waste of their time or even victimization,” Shorb said.

“I think it created an atmosphere in which people felt comfortable coming forward,” Greene said.

Anna Banker ’15, the leader of the Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies group, has decided to change its direction.

“The name of the group is going to be changed from Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies into Prevention Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), which is a national organization that has chapters and colleges across the country,” she said. “So we are actually going to be the Grinnell chapter of this organization, and they’ll provide us with resources, educational materials, and all the support we need.”

The PAVE group is planning a number of workshops, Q&A and panel sessions based on issues of consent, particularly the college’s definition of “effective consent.” It is also starting a discussion group that meet on a weekly basis about issue of power dynamics and healthy relationships.

The consultants said that student input has been an important part of their work so far, and there will be more opportunities for it in the future.

“At Grinnell, a central focus of our engagement has been to gather student input,” Smith said in the email. “Student leaders were present at the table with key administrators for a frank ‘roll up the sleeves’ discussion about how Grinnell responds to sexual misconduct.”

Leah Lucas contributed reporting.

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