Bairnwick Women’s Center offers peer support for Title IX issues

By Kaitlyn Alford
Staff Writer

The role of the Bairnwick Women’s Center in Title IX issues on campus isn’t well understood by many Sewanee students. The Wick comes up frequently in conversations about Title IX, often because the conversations or related events are hosted by the Wick. But how much influence do students at the Wick have on what steps are taken on campus to address Title IX issues?

As it turns out, not much. Wick residents offer the only official peer support on campus for students in crisis. They are also the only semi-confidential support available on campus for students who wish to disclose an incident of sexual violence or harassment.

Wick residents are not subject to mandatory reporting requirements, so they are able to offer secure support for students who may not feel in need of or ready for counseling or medical services from the Wellness Center.

“Our fundings comes from the AFC (Activities Funding Committee), like other theme houses, and from the Dean of Students office,” explained Chandler Davenport (C’19), Wick co-director. “Because the money from the University goes to the house and not us directly, we aren’t subject to reporting requirements.”

When a student discloses to a Wick resident, they have the option to make a Title IX report. Otherwise, residents send an anonymous report with no names or details for the sake of recording statistics according the the Clery Act.

In order to offer the best support possible, residents meet monthly with Title IX Coordinator Dr. Sylvia Gray. “Dr. Gray makes sure we always have the most current information so we can best help someone in crisis,” said Davenport.

Earlier this year, residents also met with Dr. Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier, Executive Director of the Wellness Center. She took the residents through a tour of the Wellness Center to walk through the process of a sexual assault examination.

In the past, Sewanee lacked a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner capable of conducting forensic exams. In recent years, resources have expanded to the point that there is now a SANE nurse available 24/7.

“They took us step-by-step through the process,” said Davenport. “They made sure that we would be able to explain to a victim-survivor exactly what the experience entails. They kept reinforcing that a victim-survivor is able to stop the examination at any point in time if it becomes too much.”

In the past, Wick residents have had the opportunity to meet with speakers brought in for workshops with faculty and staff but have not had a role in selecting the speakers. In relation to faculty, the most direct involvement residents have is with coaches of female athletic teams.

“Dr. Gray has set up meetings with us and the coaches so that they are aware of exactly what support is available to their athletes,” Davenport commented.

Title IX policies can be quite difficult to sort through, however. “We spent an hour and a half before school started looking through the manual with Dr. Gray and only made it through the highlighted portions,” said Davenport.

Policies seem to constantly be changing and updating as well. Wick residents said they want to be sure to stay updated on the policies, something they say their meetings with Gray really help with.

When it comes to issues regarding Title IX policies and procedures on campus, Davenport made it clear that the Wick’s role, in her opinion, should be to promote education about existing procedures and issues, not to influence or direct development or implementation of new protocols.