Title IX office looks to increase transparency and training

Sewanee: The University of the South. Courtesy of google.com.

By Fleming Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Nearly a year after accepting the position of Title IX Coordinator, Kelly Malone, a professor in the English department, hopes that the office can increase transparency and efficiency in the coming year. The office, which includes Malone and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Sylvia Gray, plans to send out a survey on campus sexual attitudes in the fall, and hopes this summer to release a new website with resources and statistics for sexual misconduct on campus.

“The grand hope, frankly, is that when you all come back to campus, this will all be unfurled. We want the Title IX office to run like a well-oiled machine, and we want to get it right, which is one of the reasons it’s taking so long. We want to be responsible, we want to be mindful of policy we want to be mindful of legality, and we want to be helpful, too,” Malone explained to The Purple.

She added, “I think that more information and more knowledge about how the process works will be better than just sort of supposition, the way that information sometimes gets spread on Sewanee’s campus.”

The Title IX office’s current website works under the umbrella of the Provost’s webpage on Sewanee’s main website. The new website will be separate from the Provost’s page, and Malone plans to include resources, information on reporting, training modules, and campus statistics on the site. She hopes to unveil the website this summer.

“We’re going to pull it out and make it independent…in part because of a perceived need, an articulated need, for transparency on the part of the students. And I think it would be very helpful for people to feel like this is a place I can go to get answers to my questions and to see links I can click on for maybe a training module for something like that,” said Malone.

In terms of statistics, the website will offer more information than the usual timely reporting alerts received by the community, and Malone said they will potentially offer information about the outcomes of sexual misconduct cases. These statistics will likely go back three or four years.

“One of the challenges is what you can actually divulge, in terms of information that doesn’t actually compromise confidentiality or privacy of the people involved. For the complainants as well as the respondents. It’s just such a small campus that it would just be too easy to put a story with a name and a face,” Malone further stated.

During the controversy over Charlie Rose’s honorary degree earlier this semester, as well as in ongoing conversations on social media regarding sexual assault on campus, some have questioned if perpetrators of sexual misconduct do in fact face concrete consequences when found responsible.

Regarding those who ask such questions, Malone said, “I think they don’t have the whole story. We are not able to tell them in a specific way what the consequences are. So this is one of the reasons we are hoping to find a good way of disclosing more generally what the number of reports are, the number of investigations, and the outcomes, in a way that you can’t play that game of who they apply to.”

The Title IX office has also been involved in the Task Force on Campus Sexual Climate, which is chaired by Malone and Dean of Students Marichal Gentry. The task force, which began working in April 2017, includes School of Theology Associate Dean for Community Life Deborah Jackson, Eunice Muchemi (C’19), Graff Wilson (C’18), Associate Director of the Wellness Center John Jackson, Professor Derek Ettensohn, Professor Lucia Dale, Kellan Day (T’19), Title IX Deputy Coordinator Sylvia Gray, Maria Watters from Admissions, head golf coach Nate Parrish, and regional admissions counselor Taylor Baird (C’15).

“It’s an interesting and helpful mix of people; everyone has different expertise that they bring to the table,” Malone commented.

Task force member Muchemi commented to The Purple, “Working with the initiative had been a great experience. The focus groups help us inform on the sexual assault climate on campus. It’s been great to see what other schools have done as we try to find recommendations for our university. Getting the chance to see what has been done in the past on campus as a student allowed us to figure out how we can add accountability measures into our recommendations to ensure that the students have a voice in the implementation process.”

The task force has conducted more than 20 focus groups in preparation for creating a survey on the campus sexual climate that Malone hopes to release in the fall in order to capture new freshmen, who she said research suggests are “particularly vulnerable to experiences” involving sexual misconduct.

The focus groups involve two members of the task force visiting different groups, such as the police force or the Q&A House, and asking a series of questions regarding their attitudes towards issues of sexual misconduct on campus. Malone plans to continue the focus groups, in particular with more student organizations.

After sifting through the data from the focus groups, the Title IX offices plan to work on the survey all summer, according to Malone. The survey will then be sent out to all students, faculty, and staff.

Malone could not share the data from the focus groups with The Purple, but she commented, “It will not surprise you that alcohol appears to be a front-running topic.”

When asked about her perspective during the controversy over Charlie Rose’s honorary degree earlier this semester, Malone responded, “My perspective, I think, was to hear their conversation and figure out where we need to do a better job. Mostly, I was hearing that we need to be transparent where we can be transparent. It’s sort of the nature of the work to not be able to be as transparent as people would like.”

She later continued, “What we can do is try to be as clear as possible, sharing the process information, making the resources available, all of that I think will help support trust of the process. But it’s hard.”

Malone also discussed her progress with plans she discussed with The Purple last semester: training and making resources more available for students. As Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Gray handles most of the training for staff members, including monthly training for new staff members on school and federal policy.

Malone and Gray have also been working on clarifying mandated reporting language; mandated reporters are required to inform the relevant authorities if they receive information about possible sexual misconduct.

In the future, Malone hopes to develop the training system further; Gray is currently working on the possibility of a “tiered training” available for all campus members that would include different levels of information.

“Part of the difficulty is capturing everybody who’s been here for 20 years or 30 years,” Malone said.

Malone imagines that the Title IX office could one day develop a calendar including different training events and opportunities, perhaps involving a yearly Title IX summit.

“That’s the fantasy. My desire, and Sylvia [Gray] shares this, we’re really building up the office so that we will be dispensable ourselves. I think that it’s really important for Sewanee to have a structure in place that other people can come in and fill without wondering where everything is,” Malone explained.

When the Title IX office brought Allison Hill, a clinical therapist from the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville, to speak at Sewanee, they limited sign-ups at 62 but were surprised to see more than 15 extra attendees show up.

“That told me that there is a huge hunger for the information. People want the information. And we’re in a position to provide it,” said Malone.

Looking into her second year as Title IX Coordinator, Malone commented, “It’s a hard thing to get right, but I think it’s an extremely important thing to get right.”