Presidential Working Group sends final report to Pelton

The+reforms+in+revised+draft+include+a+shift+in+the+makeup+of+the+proposed+Standing+Committee%2C+which+would+be+tasked+with+improving+cross-department+communication+between+offices+that+handle+reports+of+sexual+misconduct.+It+also+suggests+potentially+moving+the+Office+of+Access%2C+Equity%2C+%26+Title+IX+out+of+the+Social+Justice+Center%2C+where+it+currently+lives%2C+as+departments+inevitably+change+over+time.

Photo: Beacon archive

The reforms in revised draft include a shift in the makeup of the proposed Standing Committee, which would be tasked with improving cross-department communication between offices that handle reports of sexual misconduct. It also suggests potentially moving the Office of Access, Equity, & Title IX out of the Social Justice Center, where it currently lives, as departments inevitably change over time.

By Katie Redefer, Staff Writer

President M. Lee Pelton accepted the Presidential Working Group’s final draft of recommendations for Emerson’s Title IX processes on Tuesday—a draft that is notably similar to earlier versions that faced harsh criticism from students and faculty. 

Now that Pelton has reviewed and accepted the group’s report, a Standing Committee formed out of the final report will work to address the remaining suggestions from the PWG and formally implement them into the college’s Title IX policy.

The afternoon email comes on the heels of the PWG sending their finalized report to Pelton in mid-December, following a period for public comment and a community forum webinar the same month. The final report is also largely similar to the first draft released in April 2020, which was met with strong rebukes from students and faculty

At the Dec. 4 public webinar, the PWG took questions from community members related to their second draft released in November, which took a step away from the more actionable suggestions within their first draft of the report from April of 2020. Questions raised at the December webinar revolved around lack of Title IX guidance for student organizations, and how Pelton’s planned departure from the college at the end of the spring could affect the PWG’s report.

While the second draft was influenced by community feedback to the first draft, there were no significant changes made to the finalized PWG report released this week, even after the public comment period in December. 

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Working Group Co-Chair Jan Roberts-Breslin reaffirmed the similarities of the second draft to the final report in an interview with The Beacon, saying the community feedback on the second draft did not have a substantial impact on the final recommendations sent to Pelton. 

“I didn’t feel like the community meeting or reopening the report to online feedback resulted in a lot of substantive changes,” Roberts-Breslin said. “The feedback tended to be more in terms of people emphasizing things they wanted the [PWG] to keep working on, not specific critiques to what we were recommending.”

Pelton created the PWG in September 2019 to review the college’s Title IX policy after a list of more than a dozen students accused of sexual misconduct appeared outside of the Little Building. A first draft was released by April 2020, highly criticized by student activist group Students Supporting Survivors for lack of coherent changes proposed and extended timelines, among other grievances. The first draft was followed by an updated second draft in November, maintaining much of the previously contested points with minor adjustments, like the suggestion to move the Title IX Office out of the Social Justice Center. 

Nine months have passed between the release of the original draft in April 2020 and the final report released this week.  

In Tuesday’s email, Pelton shared administrative measures that have already taken place in alignment with the PWG’s findings and recommendations—yet many of these changes have been in the works for months, long before Pelton received a final report from the PWG. Several of the changes mentioned in Pelton’s email were already included in the new Power-Based Interpersonal Violence policy released in August 2020, such as expansion of informal resolutions and setting precise timeframes for Title IX investigations. 

Roberts-Breslin said many of the recommendations from the PWG corresponded with efforts of other departments like the Title IX Office, which led to the overlap with recommendations in the report and changes mentioned in Pelton’s email.

“The recommendations of the working group kind of dovetail with work that is going on, and has been going on, on the part of Title IX and other departments,” she said. “Things were evolving at the same time toward what basically, in its essence, seems like the same goal.”

The PWG was dissolved after Pelton accepted their final report in December, Roberts-Breslin said. The final report creates a Standing Committee, which would be tasked with improving cross-departmental communication during Title IX proceedings, as well as implementing other suggestions from the final PWG report. Pelton’s email said the Standing Committee should meet within the month to begin discussing suggestions from the PWG that have not yet been addressed.

Unlike the PWG, the Standing Committee will have the authority to enact changes suggested by the PWG to Title IX policy. 

“It’s so common in institutions and organizations that there are communication gaps between different departments and different parts of the organization,” Roberts-Breslin said. “That’s largely what we want the Standing Committee to be able to address, to make sure that there’s more communication and more transparency.” 

The final PWG report also follows the release of new Department of Education Title IX guidelines in May 2020, which prompted Emerson to release their new Power-Based Interpersonal Violence policy in August. Authorized by former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, the federal changes overturned Obama-era policies aimed at increasing protections for those who report sexual misconduct. 

Federal Title IX policy is expected to take a dramatic shift again under the Biden administration, which has condemned Devos’ education policies in the past. The Standing Committee is also tasked with addressing shifts that may come to federal Title IX policy under the Biden administration, according to Pelton’s email.

The Standing Committee’s membership will differ from that of the PWG, although some PWG members overlap, like Roberts-Breslin and Assistant Vice President for Student Success Sharon Duffy. The Standing Committee will be made up of the Title IX Team and Liaisons formed by the new PBIV policy, along with the Healing & Advocacy Collective and consultation with the General Counsel. 

PWG Co-Chair Amy Ansell said the membership of the Standing Committee is meant to bring various department leaders who interact with Title IX together on a regular basis to increase cross-departmental trust through steps like monthly meetings.

“The Standing Committee’s membership is precisely to bring together those staff who are directly involved in the day-to-day, week-to-week work,” Ansell said. 

Roberts-Breslin emphasized the Standing Committee will not work with individual Title IX cases, but with policy and departmental communication. Individual Title IX cases are to be addressed by the Title IX Office within the Social Justice Center.

In Pelton’s email, there was no mention of the previous suggestion to potentially move the Title IX Office out of the Social Justice Center due to an “appearance of partiality” because of the SJC’s survivor-focused approach to reports of PBIV. This was one of the PWG’s most contested suggestions, as students and faculty expressed they’d never heard concerns about the location of the Title IX Office impacting handling of PBIV reports. 

In the final report, the PWG eased their suggestion to move the Title IX Office out of the SJC. They maintained the perceived bias could present issues, stating there “may be a time in the future” when the move would be appropriate. 

Pelton’s email said the Standing Committee should plan to send a community-wide update on their work by the end of the spring semester.

President M. Lee Pelton accepted the Presidential Working Group’s final draft of recommendations for Emerson’s Title IX processes on Tuesday—a draft that is notably similar to earlier versions that faced harsh criticism from students and faculty. 

Now that Pelton has reviewed and accepted the group’s report, a Standing Committee formed out of the final report will work to address the remaining suggestions from the PWG and formally implement them into the college’s Title IX policy.

The afternoon email comes on the heels of the PWG sending their finalized report to Pelton in mid-December, following a period for public comment and a community forum webinar the same month. The final report is also largely similar to the first draft released in April 2020, which was met with strong rebukes from students and faculty

At the Dec. 4 public webinar, the PWG took questions from community members related to their second draft released in November, which took a step away from the more actionable suggestions within their first draft of the report from April of 2020. Questions raised at the December webinar revolved around lack of Title IX guidance for student organizations, and how Pelton’s planned departure from the college at the end of the spring could affect the PWG’s report.

While the second draft was influenced by community feedback to the first draft, there were no significant changes made to the finalized PWG report released this week, even after the public comment period in December. 

Working Group Co-Chair Jan Roberts-Breslin reaffirmed the similarities of the second draft to the final report in an interview with The Beacon, saying the community feedback on the second draft did not have a substantial impact on the final recommendations sent to Pelton. 

“I didn’t feel like the community meeting or reopening the report to online feedback resulted in a lot of substantive changes,” Roberts-Breslin said. “The feedback tended to be more in terms of people emphasizing things they wanted the [PWG] to keep working on, not specific critiques to what we were recommending.”

Pelton created the PWG in September 2019 to review the college’s Title IX policy after a list of more than a dozen students accused of sexual misconduct appeared outside of the Little Building. A first draft was released by April 2020, highly criticized by student activist group Students Supporting Survivors for lack of coherent changes proposed and extended timelines, among other grievances. The first draft was followed by an updated second draft in November, maintaining much of the previously contested points with minor adjustments, like the suggestion to move the Title IX Office out of the Social Justice Center. 

Nine months have passed between the release of the original draft in April 2020 and the final report released this week.  

In Tuesday’s email, Pelton shared administrative measures that have already taken place in alignment with the PWG’s findings and recommendations—yet many of these changes have been in the works for months, long before Pelton received a final report from the PWG. Several of the changes mentioned in Pelton’s email were already included in the new Power-Based Interpersonal Violence policy released in August 2020, such as expansion of informal resolutions and setting precise timeframes for Title IX investigations. 

Roberts-Breslin said many of the recommendations from the PWG corresponded with efforts of other departments like the Title IX Office, which led to the overlap with recommendations in the report and changes mentioned in Pelton’s email.

“The recommendations of the working group kind of dovetail with work that is going on, and has been going on, on the part of Title IX and other departments,” she said. “Things were evolving at the same time toward what basically, in its essence, seems like the same goal.”

The PWG was dissolved after Pelton accepted their final report in December, Roberts-Breslin said. The final report creates a Standing Committee, which would be tasked with improving cross-departmental communication during Title IX proceedings, as well as implementing other suggestions from the final PWG report. Pelton’s email said the Standing Committee should meet within the month to begin discussing suggestions from the PWG that have not yet been addressed.

Unlike the PWG, the Standing Committee will have the authority to enact changes suggested by the PWG to Title IX policy. 

“It’s so common in institutions and organizations that there are communication gaps between different departments and different parts of the organization,” Roberts-Breslin said. “That’s largely what we want the Standing Committee to be able to address, to make sure that there’s more communication and more transparency.” 

The final PWG report also follows the release of new Department of Education Title IX guidelines in May 2020, which prompted Emerson to release their new Power-Based Interpersonal Violence policy in August. Authorized by former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, the federal changes overturned Obama-era policies aimed at increasing protections for those who report sexual misconduct. 

Federal Title IX policy is expected to take a dramatic shift again under the Biden administration, which has condemned Devos’ education policies in the past. The Standing Committee is also tasked with addressing shifts that may come to federal Title IX policy under the Biden administration, according to Pelton’s email.

The Standing Committee’s membership will differ from that of the PWG, although some PWG members overlap, like Roberts-Breslin and Assistant Vice President for Student Success Sharon Duffy. The Standing Committee will be made up of the Title IX Team and Liaisons formed by the new PBIV policy, along with the Healing & Advocacy Collective and consultation with the General Counsel. 

PWG Co-Chair Amy Ansell said the membership of the Standing Committee is meant to bring various department leaders who interact with Title IX together on a regular basis to increase cross-departmental trust through steps like monthly meetings.

“The Standing Committee’s membership is precisely to bring together those staff who are directly involved in the day-to-day, week-to-week work,” Ansell said. 

Roberts-Breslin emphasized the Standing Committee will not work with individual Title IX cases, but with policy and departmental communication. Individual Title IX cases are to be addressed by the Title IX Office within the Social Justice Center.

In Pelton’s email, there was no mention of the previous suggestion to potentially move the Title IX Office out of the Social Justice Center due to an “appearance of partiality” because of the SJC’s survivor-focused approach to reports of PBIV. This was one of the PWG’s most contested suggestions, as students and faculty expressed they’d never heard concerns about the location of the Title IX Office impacting handling of PBIV reports. 

In the final report, the PWG eased their suggestion to move the Title IX Office out of the SJC. They maintained the perceived bias could present issues, stating there “may be a time in the future” when the move would be appropriate. 

Pelton’s email said the Standing Committee should plan to send a community-wide update on their work by the end of the spring semester.