As stated in an announcement from the Provost’s office last week, there have been some changes to the Title IX committee. This committee guides the process of sexual assault and misconduct reporting on campus.
Effective November 10, the roles of two long-time faculty members and sexual violence advocates will be shifting: Beth Martin Birky, professor of English and director of women’s and gender studies, will become a member of the committee as a deputy coordinator. Regina Shands Stoltzfus, professor of peace, justice, and conflict studies, will move into Birky’s previous role as faculty advocate.
The Title IX committee consists of Ken Newbold as coordinator, and four deputy coordinators from different parts of campus. Steph Miller represents athletics, Norm Bakhit for human resources, Gilberto Perez, Jr. for student life, and now Birky who will represent all points of access for students in the reporting process.
To give context to these changes, Ken Newbold, provost, executive vice president and Title IX coordinator, said, “As we looked at some of the shifting sands in some of the federal guidelines around Title IX, the Dear Colleague Letter of 2011 and the subsequent 2014 letter under Obama had been rescinded in September this year… we’ve also seen an increase in reporting. It was quite clear that we needed more help on our committee to help process.”
Formerly, Birky served in the role of faculty advocate, a confidential resource to students who may not want to report after an incident, but want to talk to someone and explore their options.
Birky said, “I think a big accomplishment of the previous two years was taking what I often did informally and giving that a specific confidential status.”
With the exception of the faculty advocate and the coordinator of the Prevention and Intervention Network (PIN), all faculty members are mandatory reporters of sexual assault and violence. Having confidential advocates available on campus is a way in which Goshen College is trying to provide a variety of resources to their students.
Now, as a deputy coordinator, Birky will be moderating intake of all sexual misconduct reports, whether they are online, via phone or email, or in person. If a report concerns solely students, Birky and Perez will focus on the case as representatives of student life. If an employee were involved, the report would be sent to Norm Bakhit, and if the report concerns issues of gender disparity within athletics, the report would go to Steph Miller. Newbold only becomes involved when either the complainant or respondent file an appeal to a Title IX committee decision. This must occur within 72 hours of the decision’s communication and meet certain criteria, which are lack of due process or the discovery of new evidence.
Even with mandatory reporter status, Birky said, “People should still consider their mentors and advisors as go-to people, saying, ‘Hey, I’m going through something really personal and I have this stress’ without revealing all the details. I want people to know that; I think there’s this sense of ‘Oh, don’t tell me! Don’t tell me because then I’ll have to report you!’ I don’t want that punitive model.”
Both Newbold and Birky consider mandatory reporting as a safeguard for equitable process. Because all faculty members are held to the same standards, it does not allow for the diminishment of an individual’s experience or inhibit the due process of Title IX guidance.
Birky said, “As a small campus, I think our tendency was to sort of individualize what we did, and that has its benefits… on the other hand, I think people need to know, if I report, this is what’s going to happen and will it be the same as someone else who reports? You should know that it will start at the same place, you’ll be offered the same things.”
For Stoltzfus, this new title is a continuation of non-violence work she does both in the classroom and in the community. She said, “Violence and gender disparities are just part and parcel with the work that I do in the classroom, so that feels really good to me. So much of what I try to make real for students is that this is not just theoretical, this is really about what’s happening.”
In the wake of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ recent rescission of the Dear Colleague Letter guidelines, many students on our campus and other campuses have raised concern that Title IX processes will no longer be survivor-centered.
Newbold said, “One of the big changes is the sharing of information with the respondent. Previously, the guideline was we could receive the report and run it through our investigation and not have to provide a copy to the respondent. We now have to do that.”
Still, the campus is committed to supporting survivors of trauma and violence as well as equitable process. Birky said, “If you look at the Rights of Complainant & Respondent on the GC webpage, there’s the rights of the complainant and the rights of the respondent and those are already very parallel.”
Stoltzfus also understands student fears, and, as faculty advocate, hopes to allay them. She said, “At the end of the day, our processes should be victim/survivor centered so that the person who has been harmed can have that harm alleviated and tended to as much as possible.”
Regarding the many changes happening both on the federal level and on the GC campus, Birky said, “I hope people will ask for what they think they need…We want to know how we can make this community function better and make it a safer, more supportive place for everybody.”
Sexual assault does happen on our campus, a fact that Newbold, Birky, and Stoltzfus fully comprehend and are working to address. Because this week is Sexual Violence Awareness Week, visibility of issues of violence has significantly increased, specifically in the clothesline project at Shrock Plaza. Dozens of shirts with stories of survival and trauma hang as reminders that survivors are with us everywhere we go.
On this, Newbold said, “That’s a very visual and vivid reminder that this is happening on our campus…We can’t pretend we don’t know; this is a commitment that we all have.”
Other events this week highlight different forms of violence, healing, and advocacy. Events include Purple-Out, yoga night at Mosaic, a letter writing event protesting the Dear Colleague Letter rollback, and conversations with sexual assault advocates, like Birky, Stoltzfus, and PIN coordinator Kendra Yoder. However, these events only touch on a few of the ways students and faculty can be involved in issues of sexual violence and healing.