Additional Information Regarding Title IX and the Interim Policy

by Patricia Flaherty Fischette

TRIGGER WARNING: This letter addresses the reporting of sexual assault and may contain content or subject matter that is sensitive or upsetting. Resources are available on and off campus to provide assistance.

Dear Swarthmore College Community Members,

As last year ended, and this year begins, our College has wrestled with the difficult issues related to the prevention and resolution of sexual assault and harassment. Our community has embraced an open and candid dialogue about these issues, and the College has sought to take clear and definitive steps to address concerns raised by community members.

Key steps to date include: 1) my appointment as Interim Title IX Coordinator, 2) the new Interim Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy that we will continue to discuss as a community throughout the year, 3) a commitment to transparent and timely information where possible; and, 4) coordinated efforts to change and shape culture on our campus including those being led by our Interim Task Force on Sexual Misconduct. President Chopp updated the community about these and other efforts this summer, and also shared the interim report (PDF) issued by Margolis Healy, which will continue to guide many of our immediate action steps, including the pending appointment of a confidential sexual assault advocate to serve our victims/survivors.

Cultural change can be unsettling to many. In my thinking about the issues of acceptance and change, I turn to the foundational tenets of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) set forth by psychologist Marsha Linehan. In attempting to shift culture, there is inevitably an acceptance of our community's pain and an awareness of a breakdown in trust. The beauty of this dialectic is that there is also change, in this instance — promoting revised policies, adding empowered advocates to support victims/survivors and reinvigorating the College's commitment to student safety.

As we seek to change culture, I am mindful that sexual violence is not about sex, but about power and control and removing one's freedom of will to choose whether or not to participate in sexual activity. In responding to sexual violence, the College is committed to restoring and protecting an individual's freedom of will in choosing how to proceed following an act of sexual violence or harassment. As I hope is clearly reflected in the interim policy, the College is committed to providing victims with agency in a way that also allows us to keep both the victim and the greater community safe. Ultimately, it is our goal to shatter the silence surrounding sexual assault, but we respect and support the fact that for each victim, breaking the silence is an individual choice. Our commitment is to identify — and remove where possible — barriers to reporting that are within our control, and to provide support and information to assist with personal or societal barriers.

In recent times, questions have been raised about the responsibilities we each bear with respect to sexual assault and harassment, and importantly, our obligations to report what we know about any such incident. This issue is not unique to Swarthmore — many colleges and universities across the country are grappling with how to maintain individual autonomy and agency and yet still ensure a consistent institutional response designed to prevent and address sexual assault and harassment and provide for individual and community safety. Since our interim policy has been introduced, I have received invaluable feedback from many community members. In keeping with the College's tradition of valuing students' perspectives, I would like to take a moment to speak to some of the changes set forth in the interim policy.

What Are Our Title IX Obligations?

Many of the concepts in our interim policy are based on an understanding of Title IX and related federal guidance, which require a college to take immediate and appropriate steps in response to a report of sexual assault and harassment. Under Title IX, once a college has notice of possible sexual harassment of students whether it is committed by employees, other students, or third parties — the college should: 1) take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred, and 2) take reasonably calculated steps to end any harassment, eliminate a hostile environment if one has been created, and prevent harassment from occurring again. Notably, these steps are the school's responsibility whether or not the student who was harassed makes a complaint or otherwise asks the school to take action. A school has notice if a responsible employee ‘knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known,' about the harassment. A responsible employee includes any employee who has the authority to take action to redress the harassment, the duty to report to appropriate school officials sexual harassment or any other misconduct by students or employees, or any individual who a student could reasonably believe has this authority or responsibility. The goal is, at all times, to create a hostile-free environment and to ensure the safety of both individual community members, as well as the community more broadly.

What Confidential Resources are Available to Victim/Survivors?

It is especially important to know that while responsible employees have an obligation to refer incidents of sexual assault or harassment to the Title IX Coordinator, there are confidential on and off-campus resources available to a victim or survivor of sexual assault. These confidential resources are not required to share information with the Title IX Coordinator and include CAPS counselors, health practitioners at Worth Health Center, and religious advisors, and the soon-to-be appointed sexual assault survivor advocate. We also encourage students to contact Women Against Rape, a Delaware county-based group that serves as another confidential resource. For an overview of resources and all reporting options please refer to the interim policy.

In addition, anyone may make an anonymous report of sexual misconduct anonymously through an online reporting form.

Who Must Refer Incidents of Sexual Assault or Harassment?

Consistent with the federal guidance on Title IX, the College's interim policy requires all College employees, with the exception of those employees who have legally recognized confidentiality (Worth Health Center employees, Counseling and Psychological Services counselors, and Religious Advisers), to share with the Title IX Coordinator all information related to a report of sexual assault or harassment they receive or of which they become aware . In this context, College employees who are required to share information with the Title IX Coordinator include faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees or volunteers who have responsibility for the welfare of other students.

Consistent with the feedback received by the campus community, the College has identified the following six student employee/volunteer groups that are required to refer reports to the Title IX Coordinator :

  • Resident Assistants
  • Sexual Misconduct Advisers and Resource Team (SMARTeam)
  • Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP)
  • Student Academic Mentors (SAMs)
  • Drug and Alcohol Response Team members (DART Team)
  • Party Associates (PAs)

Many of these individuals may have additional responsibilities under the Clery Act, which requires sharing of information for a timely warning assessment and inclusion in the daily crime log and annual security report.

Any student-employee who is aware of an ongoing or current potential hostile environment or active safety threat must report that information to the Title IX Coordinator, regardless of when they learned the information. A student-employee who has information that does not pose a current or ongoing threat and which was learned prior to a student-employee assuming one of these roles is encouraged, but not required to refer the information to the Title IX Coordinator.

Above and beyond those individuals who must share information with the Title IX Coordinator, the College strongly encourages all members of our community to refer any reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault to the Title IX Coordinator. By referring the matter to the Title IX Coordinator, victims/survivors may be connected with trained professional resources and information about procedural options, protective measures, and interim accommodations to enable a victim to be supported and as appropriate, seek accountability for those who violate our community standards. In doing so, the Title IX Coordinator will maintain the privacy of our students while tending to both individual and campus needs, and to the extent possible, maintain the agency and autonomy of a victim/survivor in choosing what information to share and how to proceed in light of that information.

What Occurs When a Referral is Made to the Title IX Coordinator?

The overall goal of Title IX reporting is to address a victim/survivor's immediate safety and needs on campus , eliminate the harassment, and prevent its reoccurrence. I recognize that this approach requires a trust and understanding of the steps that will be taken when information is shared with the Title IX Coordinator, and that trust often takes time to develop. I hope that outlining what occurs when I am made aware of an incident of sexual assault or harassment, will demystify some of this process, and remove barriers to referrals.

In the event a referral is made to the Title IX Coordinator:

  • The Title IX Coordinator will sensitively consider the conduct, the complainant's desired course of action, and the necessity for any interim remedies or accommodations to protect the safety of the complainant, reporter, respondent, or the community. The goal is to eliminate any hostile environment and offer resources to all individuals involved.

  • All reports shared will be kept private and will only be shared with a limited circle of individuals. The use of this information is limited to those College employees who "need to know" in order to assist in the active review, investigation, or resolution of the report or protection of any member of the College community.

  • Where a complainant makes a report but requests that a name or other identifiable information not be shared with the respondent or that no formal action be taken, the Title IX Coordinator will balance this request with our obligation to provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment for all Swarthmore College community members and to remain true to principles of fundamental fairness that require notice and an opportunity to respond before action is taken against a respondent. In all instances, the Title IX Coordinator will keep open communication with the complainant, provide resources and support (on and off campus) and assist in each step of the process.

Simply put, referring matters to the Title IX Coordinator is critical so that the College, as led by the Title IX Coordinator, has all relevant information in order to sensitively explore all the resources and reporting options with anyone who reports sexual assault or harassment, track cases for appropriate responsiveness and partner with Public Safety to take steps to end any harassment, eliminate a hostile environment if one has been created and prevent harassment from occurring again.

I encourage you to contact me or any of the Title IX deputies listed below directly if you have any questions about Title IX or its application at Swarthmore College.

In the end, preventing sexual misconduct, supporting victims/survivors, and adjudicating reports promptly, fairly and consistently, does not rely solely on policies or regulations. It comes down to each of us accepting our responsibilities, as they have been described above, to help create a culture that does not, and will not tolerate sexual assault; that makes resources available to victims/survivors; that works hard on prevention and programming; and that seeks to appropriately and justly seek equitable resolutions in all cases.

I am here to support each and every one of you. Thank you for your extremely honest, compelling and critical feedback. Please continue to share your opinions and experiences with me as we, together, embrace the growing pains and find a comfortable fit with our interim policy and our shared goal to make Swarthmore a campus in which every community member is free to flourish in a safe and supportive environment.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Patricia Flaherty Fischette

*In this context, "refer" or "referral" conform with the terms "report" or "reporting" presently used in the College's Policy.

**Title IX Deputies include:

Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Lili Rodriguez Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development
Dean's Office, Parrish Hall 140 │ 610-690-5767
lrodrig3@swarthmore.edu

Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Patricia Reilly Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Outreach and Associate Professor of Art History
Beardsley Hall 205 │ 610-690-3730
preilly1@swarthmore.edu

Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Zenobia Hargust Human Resources Manager
Pearson Hall 010 │ 610-328-8398
zhargus1@swarthmore.edu

Deputy Title IX Coordinator
Nnenna Akotaobi Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator Athletics
Fieldhouse 161 │ 610-328-8222
nakotao2@swarthmore.edu