New Title IX coordinator discusses goals and challenges for sexual assault prevention

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Photo courtesy of sewanee.edu

By Fleming Smith

Executive Editor

        When previous Title IX Coordinator Nancy Berner became Provost of the University, she named English professor Kelly Malone as Sewanee’s new Title IX coordinator in July. Title IX coordinators are responsible for ensuring compliance with federal Title IX law, which bars any form of sexual discrimination on college campuses. Malone hopes to increase awareness of sexual assault prevention on campus through adding more training as well as surveying the community on sexual attitudes and concerns about sexual assault.

        “When Nancy Berner became Provost, she contacted me, thought that I would be a good person for the job. That’s a little unusual. Usually when the Dean chooses someone, there’s more of an application process,” said Malone. “It was sort of imperative that she fill the post very quickly, since it is federally mandated that a college have a Title IX coordinator. I agreed to do it, although I was somewhat daunted by everything I knew I’d be signing up for. I said yes because I think that the work is so important.”

        Malone once served on the now defunct Faculty Discipline Committee, which previous handled cases of sexual assault before a more formal process was developed. To assist with her efforts, Malone hired Dr. Sylvia Gray, a former Hearing Officer at Southern Illinois University, as Deputy Title IX Coordinator.

“Mostly what I’ve been doing so far in the past couple of months is to figure out what we need to do that we haven’t really been able to do. We’re interested in improving people’s sense of their obligations as mandated reporters on campus,” Malone explained.

Malone began with experimental training with faculty and the Center for Teaching. “What I have learned is that people are really hungry for the information, they want to learn what they can do,” she commented.

“Speaking from the faculty side, we’re always very conflicted about doing what feels like violating a student’s confidence, but the truth is that even if that information has to be shared, people are very discreet with that information,” said Malone.

She also plans to make sexual assault prevention more visible on campus. Many colleges use posters to display resources on campus, including information on the Title IX coordinator and the Wellness Center.

“You might see that poster day in and day out and never think anything of it, but when you need it, you know where it is,” Malone explained.

Malone commended the Student Life branch of campus as being “ahead of the curve” in terms of bystander training and their handling of sexual misconduct issues. “We have a lot to learn from them,” she said.

        In September, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidances on how colleges should handle sexual assault cases. Previously, universities were required to use “preponderance of evidence” as the standard in cases, meaning a 50 percent, “more likely than not” chance that the misconduct had occurred. DeVos favors the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence, which is a higher standard, though still lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in courts of law.

“The fact that the climate is sort of shifting underneath our feet, in terms of what universities may or may not be able to do with the new administration, is something that everybody’s watching with interest,” Malone commented. “I don’t think we’re rolling back any back any of our progress on this campus. Preponderance of evidence is staying as it is.”

        Malone co-chairs a Campus Sexual Climate Task Force with Dean of Students Marichal Gentry (C’86), which she describes as a “blanket investigation of sexual attitudes and concerns on campus.” Currently, the task force has begun focus groups and plans to send out a survey asking about safety concerns, sexual assault, and perceptions of responsiveness from the administration to these issues.

“Nobody I know of in the administration thinks that this is something to be buried because it’s inconvenient. Everybody I talk to is trying to get it right in a way that shows the most care and concern for students, and I think that’s not always perceived,” said Malone.

Malone chairs the Title IX committee, which includes Gray, Gentry, Wilson,  Dean of Admissions Lee Ann Backlund, Chair of Women and Gender Studies Andrea Mansker, Senior Woman Administrator Nancy Ladd, Director of Athletics Mark Webb, Associate Dean for Community Life at the School of Theology Deborah Jackson (T’08), and two students, Jonny Crumly (C’20) and Charlsey Shirley (C’19).

Sexual misconduct cases on campus are divided into three sections: staff, students, and faculty. Director of Human Resources Mary Wilson decides sanctions for staff, Gentry handles student cases, and Dean of the College Terry Papillon decides faculty cases. Dean of the School of Theology Neil Alexander (H’01) handles cases in the seminary along with Jackson.

For student cases, if Gentry decides enough evidence exists to warrant a hearing after reading the investigative report compiled by the Title IX office, he creates a hearing panel from a list of trained faculty and staff. Students do not hear cases.

Malone also does not hear cases as Title IX coordinator, nor decide sanctions, although she still learns of the outcomes of these cases. In her experience, the most common sanction for students is suspension, as well as education for more minor cases such as inappropriate comments.

        When asked about what issues she most faces as Title IX coordinator, Malone responded,

“I think that consent is really an issue. I think people are very confused by what meaningful consent is. How is it that you make certain that people are sensitive to what people are saying to them, what people want and don’t want? And how is it that you empower people to make clear their own desires or lack thereof?”

        Malone encourages students to feel that even in cases of sexual misconduct, Sewanee remains a strong community, saying, “I think that we all have to look out for each other, so I want to encourage students to not only look out for each other but to feel like they can trust us to help them.”

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