Let’s Talk Title IX

Looking Closely at Sexual Violence Procedures on Campus

Alasdair Padman and Audrey Hecker

According to Whitman College’s 2018 Clery Annual Security Report & Annual Fire Safety Report, there were 13 cases of sexual violence reported in 2017, 22 reported in 2016, eight in 2015, and seven in 2014. According to the Whitman College Daily Crime Log, there were also eight reported cases in 2018. Whitman has an approximate population of 1,500 students. This suggests that, on average, one student in a population of 125 will experience sexual violence each year.

To put this into perspective, let’s compare Whitman College with the University of Puget Sound, which has approximately 2,800 students in attendance. Puget Sound reported three such cases in 2017, eight in 2016, and 12 in 2015. No information is available for 2018 or 2014. Though we do have less data for the University of Puget Sound, on average, one student in a population of 122 will experience sexual violence each year.

While the difference between these two statistics is a matter of three students, that is three students that may or may not be affected by sexual violence while attending college. Furthermore, these statistics are drastically altered when we examine the most likely victims of sexual violence. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), on average, one in six women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime, though even that statistic changes depending on age group and education. Women attending college are three times more likely to be the victims of violence, with women of color being the most affected. Furthermore, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming college students have reported being sexually assaulted.

To make matters worse, the Clery Act only requires a university to report crimes that occurred in a very specific area, usually consisting of all university-owned property or property within certain boundaries of the school. Whitman’s Clery Report specifically states: “The statistics are also broken down geographically into on campus, on-campus student residential facilities, non-campus buildings and property, or on public property such as streets and sidewalks.”

The result of these constraints is a concern amongst the student body that the Whitman Administration is not being entirely transparent about the scope of sexual violence within the community. As an example, a tally taken from the 2017 Daily Crime Log shows a reported 18 cases of sexual violence, while the Clery Report only includes 13. It calls into question both the transparency of the college—a private institution—and the reasoning for such a discrepancy.

This is not to say that the Whitman Administration has not taken steps to minimize the risk to students. After the Debate Team was disbanded in 2014 for violations of Title IX, the college responded both with a temporary ban to the organization, reinstated only in 2018, and the hiring of a Sexual Assault Victim’s Advocate (SAVA), as well as finalizing and applying a new Title IX system.

In her two-part series first published in the Pioneer in 2014, Sam Grainger-Shuba ’16 dissected the recent changes made to Title IX.

Instead of making survivors of sexual assault prepare statements, witnesses and questions to cross examine their attackers, the college has moved to an investigative model,” Grainger-Shuba wrote. “In this model, Whitman provides a trained investigator from the college’s staff and faculty to gather information about the incident with the help of the Title IX administrator. The evidence is weighed with a new preponderance of evidence standard. Instead of standards of evidence typical to a criminal proceeding like ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ or ‘clear and convincing,’ the investigator and the Title IX administrator decide together if a violation of the school’s policy is likely to have occurred. If the respondent is found responsible, the case is then forwarded to a grievance council composed of two faculty, two staff members and two students for sanctioning.”

This model has since been tested by numerous survivors of sexual violence, but many still believe that the system is inherently flawed, providing protections for the college rather than the survivor.

Lauran Schaefer—the new Director of the Debate Team—researched the manner in which college students communicate about sexual violence on campus during her time at Texas Tech University.

It also [dealt] broadly with how Title IX and sexual assault function on college campuses,” Schaefer said. “What are the rates? Who are the most likely to be assaulted? What are the risk factors? What are the most effective types of training in terms of reducing sexual violence and the mindsets that make sexual violence more probable.”

While she was unable to speak specifically about Whitman’s Title IX model, she was able to deconstruct the relationship between Title IX and an institution’s desire to protect itself. To do so, she draws on the work of Sara Ahmed, the inaugural director of the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London. Ahmed runs the research blog “feministkilljoys” where she discusses her philosophy and politics.

“In institutions of higher education, when someone complains, an institution has to save face,” Schaefer said. “So Texas Tech receives a complaint about the fraternity, so they need to make the people complaining look like the problem. So, you become a problem, by bringing up a problem or by pointing to a problem. So, Ahmed talks about that, and I think it’s really useful in understanding how Title IX, in and of itself, is not a tool for institutions to protect themselves. It’s that institutions need to protect themselves from those things in order to exist. Obviously, people think that’s bad, but people are also not doing the work to change the cultural norms that make these problems happen.”

Part of this problem stems from the design of these institutions. They are not investigatory bodies but Title IX requires them to be when dealing with cases that, outside of colleges, would be handled by a criminal court. But even an investigatory body, like the Walla Walla Police Department or court system won’t always rule in favor of the survivor.

“I think, if you have the conversation without the broader culture, is part of the problem because so many people are quick to say: well, colleges are just out to protect themselves; colleges shouldn’t be investigating,” Schaefer said. “While I agree with those, to an extent, I also recognize that even the bodies that we have, that are developed to do this sort of investigation are still influenced by rape myths and rape culture… In that way, I think that Title IX will necessarily be flawed on these questions because policy does not fix culture… If we think it’s okay to be violent toward each other—if our society valorizes that through film, television and social media — then it will continue to happen.”

In addition to the potentially problematic Title IX investigative processes, the reporting process is often confusing if not unhelpful. John Lyon ’18, a Whitman alum, former Sexual Violence Prevention Intern, and founder of Athletes for Consent Education (ACE), finds fault with the Title IX legalities more than any other aspect of the process.

People don’t know whether to go to a friend [to report] or to go to the administration or go to the Title IX advocate or go to the online reporting form or go to the mandatory reporter,” Lyon said. “The reporting mechanism is flawed because it puts too much responsibility on humans.”

Senior Kyle Fix has had an equally extensive background in working with Title IX as Lyon, but has a different opinion on what makes Title IX problematic, as exemplified by his experiences after drafting an ASWC resolution for transcript notation of convicted perpetrators of sexual violence.

Currently, [convicted perpetrators] can transfer to other schools with no record of [their crime], and then you get the problem of repeat offenders.” Fix said. “That was something I worked on that ultimately wasn’t really supported by the administration.”

Repeat offenders make up a significant portion of alleged rape perpetrators. According to Jim Hopper, clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, “research suggests that about two-thirds of college rapists are repeat offenders, who account for the great majority of rapes (over 90%).” Even aside from these staggering numbers, Fix worries that this is just one of many instances indicating the lack of transparency and initiative at Whitman about sexual assault on the part of the administration.

In 2016 and early 2017, the campus was rocked by a series of druggings that caused panic and disruption on campus. Reporters Mitchell Smith ’17 and Marra Clay ’17 covered the events in “A Breach of Trust: Whitman College Grapples With Dissociative Drug Investigation” published in The Wire on Nov. 10, 2016.

In the article, they reported that: “Cleveland and Associate Dean of Students Juli Dunn were first made aware of suspected druggings after a report was submitted to Dunn’s office on Oct. 30. The reports increased in frequency on Nov. 6. Since then, Cleveland is aware of ten victims who have reported to his or Dunn’s office. While all of the original reports were from female victims, multiple sources have also confirmed that one of the victim reports is from a male. As of Nov. 9, all the victims were members of a Greek organization.”

Fix experienced first-hand how the administration handled the issue. Following an email sent out by the administration implying a link between the druggings and a former Whitman student, Fix challenged the rhetoric therein, which outlined the administration’s decision to ask the alleged perpetrator to withdraw from the College before taking action through conduct policy.

“[The administration] sent out an email saying that [the perpetrator] had not even [been] expelled,” Fix said. “I went to Juli [Dunn] and Chuck [Cleveland, the Dean of Students at the time] and [said], ‘this is just unacceptable.’ You can’t imply that the person who was responsible for these [druggings] has been dismissed. That’s instilling a false sense of security in people. They changed the wording of the email to be more personal or something. And then more druggings happened the weekends after.”

This reaction only exacerbated Fix’s feelings toward the inauthenticity of the administration’s motives in dealing with sexual assault.

“It was just like this repeat of what seemed like the College acting in its own interest above its students and its ability to market itself above those of its students,” Fix said.

Lyon thinks the best solution to Whitman’s Title IX problems is to change the role of the middleman — he recommended a company called Callisto.

“[Callisto] is a company that designs a reporting software and tool that allows students to time stamp their reports and do all their filing online so that the support you’re getting is from the people you trust and want to talk to,” Lyon said. “You can still report the next day and not have to emotionally bear yourself next to a stranger that legally cannot be that empathetic.”

Callisto’s program (“Callisto Campus”) offers victims of sexual assault three reporting options: “Survivors can create secure, encrypted, and time-stamped records about their sexual assault,” “choose to opt-in to Callisto Campus’ repeat perpetrator detection system,” and “electronically send the record they have created directly to their institution to trigger an investigation or a consultation.”

While the investigative portion of the process would still be facilitated by the Title IX Coordinator, and would act in the same way as it currently does, the addition of an alternative reporting option lessens the stress and responsibility for both the Title IX Coordinator and the student survivor. It also increases the likelihood of quicker—and hence more accurate—reporting and evidence collection, both key elements during a Title IX investigation that will boost the survivor’s chances of winning a case.