Important Update: Interim Report on the College's Response to Sexual Misconduct
Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,
I write to share with you an interim report presented by Margolis Healy & Associates (MHA) on the College's response to sexual misconduct and, based on MHA's recommendations to identify specific actions to put in place immediately to help create a safer and more supportive environment for all students, including survivors of sexual assault and harassment. In May, I asked MHA to provide, as soon as possible, some immediate actions we could implement as we await their final report. The interim report (PDF) makes those recommendations, and this letter suggests initial steps we can take this summer and in the early fall.
As is true at many other schools around the country, we undertake this important work in the midst of a sea change occurring related to the federal laws and regulations governing how colleges and universities respond to sexual misconduct.
At Swarthmore, we deeply value each of our individual members. We share a strong sense of interconnectedness, of mutual respect and shared purpose as an academic community. When individuals are harmed, we must respond quickly and with our full support. When our community is not providing the right environment for academic and social flourishing, we must fix it. The fact that we are not perfect and must take corrective actions can lead either to cynicism or to change. I ask you now, as a member of this community, to join us in working for change.
Our common goal must be to prevent all forms of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, gender identity violence, and intimidation so our students may thrive in what is one of the most rigorous and creative undergraduate programs in this country. One incident is one too many on our campus. We know, however, that sexual misconduct does occur at Swarthmore and in the world at large; thus, we must take strategic steps to prevent it, combat it, adhere to due process, enforce sanctions when it occurs, and provide support to survivors.
This spring, I sought a comprehensive, independent review of our current practices, programs, and personnel related to sexual misconduct in order to better understand their efficacy and to make improvements in this critical area as quickly as possible. For this letter and the report itself, sexual misconduct means sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, gender identity violence, and all forms of sexual and gender violence.
In May, MHA, which specializes in campus safety, security, and regulatory compliance, began an independent, thorough review of all of the College's sexual misconduct policies and procedures. I also announced in May the formation of an internal Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, including students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Managers. This task force, which began its work this summer, has been charged to look carefully at how the College is implementing the existing and new regulations and laws and also to cultivate a culture that fosters greater mutual respect to ensure that our campus is one in which every member of our community can thrive.
I deeply appreciate and acknowledge the good, hard work that many community members have already undertaken in this area, including task force members, Sexual Misconduct and Advisors Resource Team (SMARTeam) and Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) members, staff in the dean's office, health services, public safety, and many other individual students, faculty, and staff. For the last several years, we have had a part-time Title IX coordinator and have hired additional staff specifically to address this issue. We have expanded and improved training and consent workshops, regularly notified the community about available resources, and made a number of other improvements. But there is still more work to be done to meet our common goals as an intellectual community that always sets and achieves the highest possible standards.
MHA will return to campus this fall to meet with community members. They will provide additional recommendations in their final report. Based on their interim report and in consultation with our internal task force, I want to share the following specific actions to be implemented over the next several months:
- I have authorized-and this fall we will conduct-a national search for a dedicated, fulltime Title IX coordinator, who will report directly to the President. The search committee will be formed when students and faculty return, with a goal to have a coordinator in place by the end of the academic year.
- In the meantime, I am pleased to announce that Patricia Flaherty Fischette, who has worked in counseling and psychological services (CAPS) and with health services to provide counseling and programmatic support to students and the SMARTeam, has agreed to take a leave from CAPS to serve as the College's interim Title IX coordinator, effective immediately. Patricia will be responsible for all Title IX compliance, training, and programming and will review investigations. We are most fortunate she is able to step into this important role this summer. Her background in law, counseling, and Title IX will serve us well as we begin implementing the MHA recommendations.
- The Title IX coordinator's work will be further supported by an expanded group of Title IX deputy coordinators, including Lili Rodriguez, associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development; Patricia Reilly, associate provost for academic development and outreach and associate professor of art history; Zenobia Hargust, human resources manager; and Nnenna Akotaobi, associate athletics director. These deputies will support the Title IX coordinator's oversight of all Title IX complaints and will identify and address any patterns or systemic problems that arise during the review of Title IX complaints.
- One of the most common concerns raised by students is a lack of a clearly identified advocate to help victims/survivors navigate our support systems as well as our grievance procedures. We will hire an advocate to provide guidance through our systems for survivors of sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment and misconduct.
- We fully appreciate that respondents to complaints also require assistance, particularly throughout the grievance process. We will hire a hearings advisor for this important function, noting that the U.S. Department of Education clearly mandates a fair and equitable process for both complainants and respondents.
- We are currently conducting a thorough review of all relevant policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct, including, among many others, the prohibition of sexual and discriminatory harassment as well as gender identity violence; the notice of non-discrimination; sexual misconduct; and Public Safety's policies for handling sexual assault reports. The College, along with legal experts who specialize in these areas and are well acquainted with the changing regulatory environment, is working hard to draft a comprehensive policy, in full compliance with existing and new regulations and laws, for consultation with the community in the fall.
- Our prevention, education, and programming devoted to sexual misconduct will be expanded. We will undertake a comprehensive inventory of our current education and prevention efforts in order to strengthen these efforts and ensure we are complying with federal mandates and abiding by best practices. We will engage the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, as well as other student groups, in this inventory. We also intend to provide a new, online course for incoming first-year students and require all students to take it each year. We are currently identifying options for the online course, and we will ask the task force, the SMARTeam, ASAP members, and others to advise us in the final selection of the course. This online course is meant to augment the interpersonal programming already sponsored by ASAP and the SMARTeam, in partnership with Beth Kotarski, among others.
- Based on best practices, and after careful consideration, we have been advised to separate the roles of drug and alcohol counseling and fraternity advising. We will hire a new position to develop and present educational alcohol and drug prevention programming and provide individual and group counseling to students. This position will work within the health center to integrate our prevention and treatment programs more fully into the College's health and wellness resources.
- Support and oversight for fraternities and for the sorority will become more fully integrated into residential life and student activities. Lili Rodriguez, associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and community development, will have general oversight of Greek life; Mike Elias, student activities coordinator, will serve as advisor to the fraternities; and Satya Nelms, wellness coordinator, will continue to serve as the advisor to Kappa Alpha Theta.
- As has been widely documented and as the MHA report indicates, alcohol and other drug use is involved in the vast majority of sexual assault cases throughout the country. This fall, the task force, in collaboration with the Dean's Advisory Council, will review the role of alcohol and other drugs in creating an environment that can contribute to sexual misconduct and to make recommendations to create a safer social environment. Community input will be vital in guiding and informing this phase of our work together.
- I have authorized Mike Hill, director of public safety, to hire an additional investigator for his department and to provide training for other members of his staff and additional members of the campus community on how to most effectively and sensitively conduct investigations related to sexual misconduct. This training is already underway.
- To further improve our implementation of Clery Act requirements, we will ensure that all of our campus security authorities (CSAs)-who are staff, faculty, resident assistants (RAs), and others who, by virtue of their position, are likely to hear first-hand reports of sexual misconduct and other crimes-are identified and trained on their responsibilities to promptly report all Clery Act crimes, including sexual assault. We will also make sure that we widely distribute this list of CSAs and ensure the campus community knows they are vital, non-confidential resources. Public safety will re-examine the issuance of timely warning notices and make sure the Clery provisions are easy to find on the website. We will make available to all community members a mobile app that will provide quick access to relevant public safety resources, contact information, and other Clery Act information.
- Next month, we will begin to institute a comprehensive training program with expanded Title IX training for CSAs, including RAs. We will begin with those CSAs most likely to be first responders for victims of sexual misconduct and then expand our training to others throughout the year.
- This week, MHA has begun a full review of our grievance procedures to ensure that they are readily understood and that they don't inadvertently create reporting barriers. This work will continue into the fall when students and faculty return.
Beyond these immediate action steps, there is much more to be done in the fall semester and beyond. MHA will return to campus to meet with many more members of our community and to write their final report, which will provide recommendations meant to serve us well into the future. In their final report, we can expect specific recommendations about ways to improve our grievance procedures, how best to provide training to all CSAs, and how to continue to expand our prevention and education programming, among others. If you are interested in meeting with Margolis Healy, please contact them at email@example.com or watch for announcements of public sessions after the fall semester begins.
Our commitment to combat sexual assault, abuse, gender identity violence, and harassment must be strong and indefatigable. I ask every member of this community to commit and to remain committed to this work. I urge you to join the internal task force and many other community members as we strive to create an atmosphere on our campus that does not tolerate sexual assault or harassment and that continually reinforces our commitments to personal safety, living in academic community, and treating every individual with respect and dignity.
I welcome your response to this interim report, including suggestions you may have and any questions you would like Margolis Healy, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, firstname.lastname@example.org, or any member of the administration to address. Please don't hesitate to write me at email@example.com.