Title IX working group takes questions before finalizing recommendations

By Katie Redefer, Staff Writer

The Presidential Working Group addressed questions from the Emerson community about its revised draft of findings about the college’s Title IX processes and additional sexual misconduct policy concerns at a community forum webinar Friday afternoon. 

Working group co-chairs Jan Roberts-Breslin and Amy Ansell took turns reading over slides that explained proposed suggestions, like the possibility of moving the location of the Title IX office and implementing steps like informal resolution in sexual misconduct proceedings. 

Attendees’ microphones and cameras were intentionally turned off during the webinar, and participants were allowed to ask written questions through Zoom’s chat feature. Questions were read anonymously during the webinar and viewers were unable to see responses from other attendees in the chat. 

The webinar marked the last round of public comment before the group’s suggestions about Emerson’s Title IX processes is sent to Pelton. Now, the question of when the suggestions will be integrated into college policy remains. 

“It depends on how President Pelton receives our recommendations, how quickly they get acted upon, and whether the [Standing] Committee would get established and working before he leaves,” Roberts-Breslin said. 

The webinar began with Roberts-Breslin going over the members of the PWG, which included the names of nine faculty members, but none of the five students that were members of the group last spring. She acknowledged this absence and thanked the students for their prior involvement in the PWG.

“They [student members of PWG] were quite active through last year, but due to graduations and other commitments, they haven’t been able to continue with us in these final weeks,” Roberts-Breslin said.

Roberts-Breslin also acknowledged that federal Title IX regulations released by the Department of Education this spring required Emerson to create their new Power Based Interpersonal Violence Policy in August. It is likely that President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office in January 2021, could overturn Betsy Devos’ federal Title IX policies in the future. 

“A lot of people are wondering now, with the results of the election, are those regulations going to change again?” Roberts-Breslin said. “Our consultants tell us that yes, probably they will [change], but that those changes certainly will not be immediate and will take some time.”

Roberts-Breslin clarified that this does not inherently change the PWG’s plans, as they are tasked with identifying issues within the college’s handling of Title IX cases and suggesting changes that could be made—not rewriting the policy itself. 

President Pelton tasked the PWG with creating a list of suggested changes to the college’s Title IX policy in September 2019. The group released a highly-criticized first draft of findings and recommendations in April, after which they promised to create a revised draft with consideration of the criticisms. 

After weeks of delays, the PWG released their revised draft last Wednesday with minimal changes from the first draft. However, Roberts-Breslin said the group found the second draft significantly different from the first. 

“I was surprised at how revised the second draft is from the first. I didn’t expect it to change that much,” Roberts-Breslin said. “Those changes just took us a while to consider thoughtfully.”

One attendee asked how the PWG’s work could be affected by President Pelton’s recently announced departure from the college in June. Roberts-Breslin said that is dependent on Pelton’s implementation of the recommendations. 

That means Pelton’s successor could be responsible for tweaking the college’s policy after stepping into the role. Ansell said that she hopes the PWG’s findings will be helpful to whoever the incoming President is.

“I can’t help but think that all of the work and the energy the community has put into this process will serve a new president very well in understanding the lay of the land and what the issues are,” she said.

After a slide about the proposed Standing Committee, which the revised draft suggested to be formed to “strengthen communication and cross-office collaboration.” Roberts-Breslin said the committee would be an extension of the PWG. 

“In a lot of ways, the Standing Committee will be an extension of this group. There were a lot of these recommendations that we talked about that need to be implemented, that need to be further researched,” Roberts-Breslin said. “It is going to be an ongoing, iterative process, which is why we feel it’s so important that this committee exists.”

Roberts-Breslin also referenced the Standing Committee’s responsibilities when an attendee asked about student organizations’ ability, or lack thereof, to remove a member that may have an ongoing Title IX allegation against them. In the past, student organizations do not have the jurisdiction to remove members from their group with administrators’ involvement. 

“It’s something we’ve come to realize is very complicated because it’s an issue of the responses and the feelings of survivors,” Roberts-Breslin said. “But there are also legal implications to it too.”

One of the more controversial proposals from the original draft is the suggestion to move the sexual misconduct proceedings out of the Social Justice Center, where it currently lives. PWG members wrote in the draft that this move would be due to the “possibility of a perceived misalignment,” resulting from the trauma-informed stance the SJC holds in regards to power-based interpersonal violence. 

In the new draft, the PWG maintains the current location could present future issues, and thus the college should “consider” the location of the Title IX office. The revised draft does not propose other potential locations where the office could exist.

The co-chairs said in the webinar that the PWG does not question the neutrality of the Title IX office, but still felt it necessary to consider the way it may be perceived by community members.

“The working group never questioned that the Title IX process was not done in a neutral way,” Roberts-Breslin said. “What we were concerned about was that the location of the Title IX office within the Social Justice Center could possibly present perception problems about the neutrality of the process, but not questioning the process itself.”

Roberts-Breslin also said the PWG spoke with multiple individuals within the college, who were not identified, after this proposed move received criticism. There, it became clear there is not a better location for the Title IX office than the SJC at this time.

“Quite frankly, [there] really wasn’t an option that seemed a better location for the [Title IX] office at this point,” Roberts-Breslin said. 

The group also extended the deadline to submit public comments about the revised draft until Dec. 7. The final draft, with consideration of these additional comments, will be sent to Pelton by the end of the month, the co-chairs said.