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President Kington’s Correspondence with The S&B regarding OCR Review

Editor’s Note: The S&B is releasing its full correspondence with President Raynard Kington, which was quoted in this week’s article about the publication of Tyler Kingkade’s Huffington Post article (Link: concerning how administrators at Grinnell College handled three sexual assault cases and the administration’s request for an OCR review of those cases. (Link to the article: These statements were released with permission from President Kington. We are publishing these statements in their entirety due to the complex, sensitive nature of this issue.

First Correspondence with The S&B (Wednesday, March 4)

The S&B: Can you explain why Grinnell is requesting this OCR review now, if students voiced complaints concerning staffing and policy in 2012?

Kington: The College has engaged students continuously during the period you’re asking about. After the May 2012 S&B article with firsthand survivor accounts we immediately hired the nation’s leading Title IX consultants, Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, to conduct a deep and thorough review of our Title IX policies and processes. They started work within a few weeks after the S&B story ran. Their process included inviting all complainants and respondents involved in cases during 2011-12 to be interviewed about their experiences and concerns. We wanted to make sure our policies and practices took their experiences into account. Dissenting Voices was also included in the work of the Prevention Task Force. All of these efforts drove further changes: I included a long list with my campus message on Monday. I especially want to commend Angela Voos, our Title IX coordinator, who has done an incredible amount of work in responding to this challenge.

We decided to go to OCR now because the media discussion of campus sexual assault has reached a pitch of intensity and inaccuracy. In trying to be responsive to Tyler Kingkade’s questions, we kept coming up against the fact that we couldn’t share relevant information with him because of federal privacy laws. Colleges can’t comment even to confirm or correct what a reporter has heard from other sources, including the complainant or respondent—regardless of whether those students have publicly identified themselves and described their experiences. This is why we have fallen into a cycle in which one reporter publishes a heartbreaking account of a specific case, and then another reporter uncovers gaps in the original story, and so on. Public reaction swings back and forth from sympathy with victims to sympathy with the accused. It’s an unhealthy environment, it hurts student by creating misleading impressions that deter reporting, and it distorts public policy. It even violates our commitment to the liberal arts: analyzing evidence, communicating with precision, considering alternate viewpoints, and so on. If we want students to embrace these values, they have to see us living them in our own work.

In considering this dilemma, I realized the OCR is the only agency that has the legal authority to look at all the facts of our situation, including specific cases, and provide us with guidance on whether we’re doing the right things for our students—and, if not, what more we should do. If this exposes shortcomings, I would rather know about them and take action to make things better, as I explained in Monday’s message.

The S&B: How was the decision made to request an OCR review? Who was involved in making that decision?

Kington: I made the decision. It happened during a phone conversation with Angela Voos; our Title IX consultants Leslie Gomez and Gina Maisto Smith; and Jim Reische, about how we were going to respond to Tyler Kingkade’s questions for the Huffington Post. He had given us accounts of specific cases and asked if they were accurate. We had an answer, but were unable to say anything because of federal privacy laws. It seemed wrong that the story would be told without all the facts. I asked the group if there was any reason why we shouldn’t just go straight to OCR and ask them to provide guidance, instead of trying this in the court of public opinion based on incomplete information. The group felt it was an idea worth exploring. We realized it was a risk to the College’s reputation: but the risk of bad publicity is outweighed by our obligation to serve our students. In exploring the possibility we also consulted with Andrea Conner, Dean Latham, the College’s legal counsel, and ultimately the leadership of our Board of Trustees, among others.

The S&B: If the OCR does call for a federal investigation of Grinnell as a result of their review, can you explain the steps that the College will take as a result?

Kington: We will fully comply with their requests. If the investigation happens, it will likely involve producing copies of a large number of documents, as well as interviews with individuals and extensive documentation. It will also require us to build a detailed timeline of our actions and decision over a period of time that they will specify. It will be a great deal of work, but if it helps us do even a little more to help our students, it will be worthwhile.

The S&B: In regards to the complaints voiced by members of Dissenting Voices, have members of the administration had any recent contact with representatives of DV in any way? 

Kington: We met with them on February 2. We’ve reached out to them three more times since then, but our proposals for follow-up meetings have not gotten a response. We still want to meet with them because we think they can help us improve. These meetings can still happen even though they’ve announced that they filed an OCR complaint.

The S&B: Could you explain the process by which the college sought external Title IX policy review in 2012?

Kington: After the S&B article in May 2012, about self-reported assaults, and meetings with students who were very upset, I determined that we need a thorough and unflinching review. I asked my chief of staff Angela Voos to find us a consultant immediately. Angela reached out to other institutions that had been doing this work and sought their recommendations. Those conversations led us to Leslie Gomez and Gina Smith as national leaders in the field.

The S&B: Last night, possible victim-survivors and perpetrators were named on Yik Yak. Does the College have a plan to deal with this given the focus on privacy in Title IX policy?

Kington: Yik Yak is a problem. We saw this in the hate speech incident last week, where our students of color were attacked. And now we’re seeing it again with some users trying to name victims or respondents, which is a form of retaliation and a very serious violation. But we can’t control Yik Yak. It’s an anonymous platform that’s not run by the College. So students are going to have to decide whether they want to go there. Participation in that setting will require people managing their own conduct and requiring the same of their peers: this includes speaking out against and downvoting expressions of hate or intolerance, as well as making these expressions known to the College so we can take action—something I know we need to get better at.

The S&B: According to the email you sent out to students, the OCR will be investigating the cases Kingkade is reporting on. Is there a possibility the investigation will include other cases not covered by Kingkade’s article? If not, will the scope of the OCR investigation be constrained in any way?

Kington: The OCR has authority to look at any facts they deem pertinent to their work, within legal bounds. This could include any cases we’ve ever had. It’s important to emphasize that we did not ask the OCR to investigate us. That would involve us saying “we think we did something wrong, can you investigate?” That’s not what we’re saying. What we asked them for was technical assistance and guidance. We said, “allegations are being made that our processes weren’t right. Federal guidelines changed numerous times during the period from 2011 to 2014, which is when most of these cases took place. Can you please scrutinize our work and help us determine whether we missed anything? And, if so, what would you advise us to do to make sure we’re helping our students to our fullest capabilities?”

The OCR has to decide whether to accept either or both the College’s request and Dissenting Voices’ complaint. We’re waiting for them to notify us of their decision, and will respect whatever they choose to do. We don’t see OCR as an adversary—they’re a partner who can help us do more for our students. But we’re also not going to stop working in the meantime. We’re going to continue to improve.

After receiving the previous email, The S&B followed up with President Kington regarding further questions.

Second Email Correspondence (Thursday, March 5)

Kington: Before I get to your questions, I want to start by saying I’m deeply concerned by the anonymous and hateful interchanges we’ve witnessed on Yik Yak and in the comments posted on various news sites. The point of Title IX is to ensure that we support our students and give them every opportunity to participate fully in the educational opportunities Grinnell offers. That’s not possible when we’re attacking each other in unproductive discourse. The next step after raising awareness is working together as a community—in order to do that, we need to come together to listen and learn from one another’s perspectives and experiences.

The S&B: Now that the article has come out and you’ve had a chance to read it, do you think it was a fair portrayal?

Kington: Given that Tyler Kingkade was trying to report a complicated story without access to the full facts, I appreciate that he worked hard to provide a nuanced portrayal of the issues that colleges like Grinnell face, in trying to prevent and fairly respond to sexual assault cases.

The S&B: What were areas where you felt Kingkade successfully addressed issues with Grinnell’s policy and where do you disagree with his reporting?

Kington: It’s important to reiterate that we can’t comment on specific cases, even to confirm a statement or offer an alternative viewpoint. That said, I was glad he recognized that we’re trying to improve, and that many of the issues he described had already been addressed. His reporting showed that we’re committed to confronting sexual assault and that we take action when problems are identified.

The S&B: Further, after seeing responses to this article and gauging the community’s reactions, what will the College’s next steps be to meet the needs of victim-survivors and students?

Kington: We will continue to offer the widest possible range of confidential and other resources to victim-survivors and students. We will encourage students to partner with us as we improve our preventative and our response work. Grinnell Advocates and SGA have done exceptional work as student leaders, and SGA has started a new working group. I also commend Dissenting Voices for raising awareness of the serious issues surrounding Title IX, here and nationally.

The S&B: How does this change your timeline and priorities in regards to Grinnell’s sexual misconduct policy? 

Kington: We’re fully committed to continually assessing and improving our work. That effort will continue, but we do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because of media coverage.

The S&B: What would you say to Grinnell students who have concerns about the College’s handling of sexual misconduct in light of the Huffington Post article?​

Kington: We’ve made many changes since 2012, which is the period Kingkade focuses on, and a number of them addressed the issues he identified. We’ll continue to make changes to stay abreast of OCR guidance and to embrace new ideas about how best to help students.

The S&B: How will the Title IX office move forward and continue to take into account student input?

Kington: Student input and participation are essential to make sure we do everything we can to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual misconduct. I’m grateful to Ope Awe for pulling a working group together. We hope Dissenting Voices will continue to participate in the dialogue, too.

The S&B: Does working with the OCR or the article change any procedures?

Kington: No, it doesn’t.

Does the school have any plans to modify no-contact orders given the issues pointed out in the article regarding the size of the campus? Could you also discuss how they were supposed to work originally given Grinnell’s small campus?

Kington: I recommend that you talk to Andrea Conner about this.

The S&B: How does the school support its victim-survivors specifically, given that the article described a case in which a victim-survivor needed academic accommodations she did not receive?

Kington: This answer describes our general policies, not the facts and circumstances of any individual cases. We will provide all the resources at our disposal to support a student, regardless of what course of action they choose under the policy. Any student can request resources from our Title IX Coordinator or Dean of Students. Those resources include helping every student connect to medical, counseling, spiritual or other forms of support. It can also include reasonably available academic accommodations, residence modifications, and no-contact orders on a case-by-case basis. We also make sure our conduct process is guided by the victim’s choices about the extent and timing of action.

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