Editor’s note 09/07/2020 at 2:28 p.m.: A previous version of this article mistakenly reported that, under the formal resolution process, the determination of responsibility is done internally (within the Bowdoin community) and the decision about sanctions is done externally (outside Bowdoin). The reverse is true; the determination of responsibility is done externally and a decision about sanctions is made internally.
President Clayton Rose announced that the College had incorporated new Title IX rules released by the Department of Education in May into its Student and Employee Title IX Policy in an email to the community on August 19.
“I think the two biggest changes students should pay attention to are the fact that the definition of sexual harassment has changed … [and that] we will now have a live hearing that decides whether a person has violated our policy,” Benje Douglas, associate vice president for inclusion and diversity and director of Title IX, said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Bowdoin’s policy now defines sexual harassment, in part, as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would consider so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive as to deny the victim equal access to the College’s Education Program or Activity.” The standards for severity and pervasiveness laid out in this policy—which were mandated by the Department of Education—will likely mean that some behaviors that formerly qualified as sexual harassment under Bowdoin’s previous Title IX definition no longer will. However, the College maintains its own standards for student contact, separate from Title IX, and these standards have not changed.
“There is behavior that may not reach the Title IX definition of sexual harassment that can and will be addressed through the social code as is necessary,” Douglas said.
Douglas said that he will be working with Katherine O’Grady, associate dean of student affairs and community standards and advisor to the Judicial Board, to oversee the process through which such complaints are handled. But even in these instances, Douglas explained, he will still be able to provide supportive measures to the students involved.
In addition to the maintenance of standards around student conduct, Bowdoin’s institutional policy has not changed either its definition of effective consent or its reliance on the preponderance of evidence standard.
Still, the incorporation of a live hearing structure into the formal resolution process—mandated by the Department of Education—will create a significant experiential difference for students involved in formal Title IX processes. Douglas expects the hearings to happen virtually, even after COVID-19, and he said that the students involved would participate from separate physical spaces and would not be on-screen at the same time.
A decision maker, not affiliated with the College, will preside over the hearing. Each student will also be provided with a separate, external advisor with professional experience in the area. After the decision maker reaches a verdict on whether the policy was violated, as was the case with the College’s previous Title IX policy, a group composed of members of the Bowdoin community will decide on an appropriate sanction.
“Our goal is to make sure that this is done well by people who understand this work and have a real professional interest in getting it done well, while we retain the ability as an institution to decide what the sanction is going to be because we’ll always know Bowdoin better than somebody from the outside looking in,” Douglas said. “So that has not changed. The determination of responsibility is still done externally, but the decision about sanctions is done internally.”
Samantha Schwimmer ’21, who has been involved in organizing both independently and as a leader of the Reproductive Justice Coalition, feels that live hearings will give the formal resolution process more of a courtroom structure.
“I know that Bowdoin is trying to do everything that they can to make [the new Title IX process] a process that really reflects Bowdoin’s values, but at the end of the day, the process will only make it harder for people to report. It will make survivors less safe. It is incredibly re-traumatizing,” Schwimmer said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It’s tough to sugarcoat that. It’s tough to make that okay.”
Schwimmer voiced a desire for more clarity around how advisors would be selected, and she and Lotte Parsons ’22 both advocated for more overall transparency from the College.
Parsons, who participated in the Leadership Institute run by the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education, has been discussing how the new Title IX rules will impact college campuses with fellow Bowdoin students, as well as with her friends at other colleges and with her mother, a professor at Rice University.
“My primary goal is making sure that students know what changes are happening at the Bowdoin level as well as the national level,” Parsons wrote in an email to the Orient. “There is already so much unnecessary murkiness around what the Title IX process looks like, and I think that this misinformation and lack of information can be a major barrier for students thinking about reporting an incident or seeking other forms of support.”
Community members do have multiple opportunities to provide feedback on the policy, which Douglas referred to as a “living document.”
“I have asked [Douglas] to convene a Title IX policy review group to deeply study the changes made and make suggestions as to how they can better align with existing Bowdoin policies and community standards,” Rose wrote in his August email. “This work will be done by students, staff and faculty.”
Douglas anticipates that revisions to the policy will be made in the coming year, and he encouraged students to continue reaching out to him or to the committee with any questions or concerns in the meantime.
Schwimmer, who has had conversations with Douglas and with Lisa Peterson, director of gender violence prevention and education, encourages other students to do the same.
“Our goal is not to fight the administration. Our goal is to really work with the administration to make this policy make sense for our community and to make this policy, which I personally really find horrible, for lack of a better word … to make it work,” she said.
Tianyi Xu contributed to this report.