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Last week, the school released its presidential working group draft findings, which sought to detail the sexual misconduct climate at the college through a year of review by 10 members of the Emerson community.
In the report, the group highlighted issues with trust between the students and the college, transparency within the Title IX process, communication between departments responsible for responding to misconduct, and the overall structure of the Title IX office in its current state.
Members of Students Supporting Survivors—an activist organization dedicated to seeking improvement in the sexual misconduct ecosystem at Emerson—expressed strong concerns with the findings, with president Leah Cedeño describing the draft over social media as “a bone that was thrown to us to get us to be quiet,” and stating “I just don’t understand how it takes you two semesters to come up with a list that I could have given you.” Cedeño was a member of the working group, but left in January 2020.
The working group’s draft recommendations, paired with the response from S3, suggest that the college continues to fall short in offering students the proper resources to seek justice for cases of sexual misconduct.
Recommendations on college policy surrounding Title IX deserve legal expertise. Cedeño argues that “the amount of knowledge and education you need to have on this topic in order to make decisions regarding it is far more than anyone in the working group has.” Although the working group met with legal experts throughout their survey, Cedeño argued that they were ultimately not enough to provide the working group with the expertise necessary to make proper recommendations to college policy.
In the past, the school used outside experts to review their policy and handling of Title IX cases, and now it is time for them to consider bringing in a third party again in order to bring real changes and not fall short of students’ expectations once more.
In 2015, the college implemented several changes to Title IX policy, including hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, moving to an investigator model in place of the outdated hearing model system, and launching a unified sexual misconduct policy. These changes came at the heels of a review by an internal Title IX task force and an external review from Margolis Healy, a Vermont-based firm that specializes in campus safety and security.
But 5 years later, these previous changes proved to be outdated and insufficient, and students still struggle to see the policy as fitting. Students have maintained a front against the state of the college’s Title IX policy over social media for years. A 2017 Beacon op-ed by Piper Clark said it took over 100 days of rigorous questioning for her attacker to be found responsible—but still granting him the opportunity to walk at commencement and share the same applause.
Two years later, Cedeño pushed for a recommendation for a commencement rule for violators, but the Presidential Working Group’s draft recommends forming a new standing committee to take on questions of policy. After a year of review by a group made one year ago, it is strange to see how their first solution offered is to make another new group –– one positioned to give the appearance of action while still delaying the change students have been calling for.
The school was also slow on hiring a new investigator after the previous one quit in early 2018. The on-and-off search process took two years to complete, which included a period where the job posting was taken down.
Last April, over 100 people gathered in the Piano Row Multipurpose Room to talk about sexual assault on campus and the college’s lack of conviction in dealing with it. That same week, a list of 12 students’ names was posted on Emerson scaffolding, accusing them of sexual assault in what may have been a response to the college’s inability to identify abusers themselves. Flyers accusing the college of protecting abusers appeared on campus for the remainder of the semester, although evidence was not publicized.
In the last three years alone, The Beacon has written six editorials on the Title IX environment at the college because we’re committed to holding the school accountable for the reaction they consistently incite from us students. We stand by the voices online and on campus that recognize the slow responses from school, the dismissive attitude toward sexual misconduct cases, the overly complicated process that students have to go through, and the Title IX office’s lack of transparency.
Without seeking an external review, the college keeps the burden of influencing policy internal, where history shows slow timelines and shortcomings. A review from Margolis Healy, a professional firm with years of experience, brought change. Now, we’ve seen a year-long investigation from a Presidential Working Group, with findings that question whether or not the college wants to attack sexual misconduct on campus with the same determination they appeared to have in 2015. Keeping the power to influence change in the hands of a college-run group keeps the administration in their comfort zone, when the changes our students deserve requires them to step outside of it.
The Berkeley Beacon Editorial Board is the voice of the student newspaper that looks to serve the Emerson College community with thoughtful insight into ongoings and occurrences affecting their everyday lives. The board’s positions are determined by its members. The board consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editors, and opinion editors. The opinions expressed by the Editorial Board do not impact the paper’s coverage. You can respond to a position brought forward by The Beacon Editorial Board in the form of a Letter to The Editor by email: [email protected]