Campus Forum on Title IX – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Campus Forum on Title IX

Individuals from across the HWS community gathered for an important campus dialogue about Title IX and a range of related issues during a specially held public forum at the end of the spring semester. Featuring a panel of HWS community members, the forum was convened to share ideas, concerns and questions about Title IX resources and reporting policies, as well as to engage in an open exchange about how sexual misconduct is addressed and discussed on campus.

Held in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center, the event was organized by the Coalition of Concerned Students, a newly formed student-group comprised of representatives from the Women’s Collective, Hobart for Equality and Respect (HEAR), William Smith Congress, Hobart Student Government, Pride Alliance, and several other students.

“In organizing this discussion, we wanted to bring students, faculty and the administration together to look at sexual misconduct on our campus and how we can work together to overcome it,” says Bridget Sakowski ’14, president of the Women’s Collective. “By increasing the role that students play in creating policies, we think we can also increase confidence in those policies. We want to make sure that the work the Colleges is doing is inclusive and accessible.”

The panel featured Sakowski; Susanne McNally, dean of William Smith College and professor of history; Stacey Pierce, associate dean of students; Tyler Steving, president of HEAR; and Robb Flowers, vice president for student affairs.

The panel was moderated by Laura Alexander ’14. Aly McKnight ’15 and Molly Doris-Pierce ’15 also offered an introduction to Title IX and the rights and responsibilities of schools.

Sharing remarks at the beginning of the dialogue, President Mark D. Gearan said the event was representative of the kind of engaged demonstration by students and HWS community members around critical and important issues.

“I prize the opportunity that we have to think through the kinds of resources that we have on campus and some of the resources that should exist on this campus,” Gearan said. “That’s why this summer is so important for us. The cadence of an academic year gives us this critical period of time to think through expansively on where and how we want to move forward. I look forward to this conversation and the ways it can help us think about the future and best position our intent and focus.”

Attended by students, faculty and staff, the forum addressed a range of topics including reporting resources on campus, who is a mandatory reporter, as well as plans for addressing Title IX and related issues. There also was an opportunity for a question-and-answer session with attendees.

“To have a conversation about being a survivor of sexual violence is one that is difficult, and to offer people a safe location in which to initiate that conversation is very important,” Flowers said.

At HWS, Flowers said that Student Affairs works to support survivors by serving as a resource and making resources available. Support can come from a myriad of sources, he said, including the Office of Student Affairs, Deans, Campus Safety, the Chaplain, faculty and staff.   

“There is value in offering a wide net,” Flowers said. “This is a community issue – it shouldn’t be handled solely through one location.”

Flowers also said the Colleges have found the online Bias Incident Reporting Form, which allows any member of the HWS community to anonymously report a violation of community standards, to be an important campus resource. Flowers said his office is considering establishing a 24-hour hotline available to students who would like to speak to someone immediately.

At the forum, one of the main points of discussion focused on the balance between transparency and confidentiality, and how students can be more involved in broadening the conversation.

“We tend to stay in one realm with this kind of concern and tend to forget that we’re on a campus of more than 2,000 people that each have individual feelings and thoughts about these things,” Sakowski said. “I understand that confidentiality is huge and there are certain legal restrictions on these issues, but trying to figure out how to have conversations like this – not only about the legal issues – but also the culture on campus is huge.”

Sakowski said students want to be involved in the dialogue as much as possible, but it’s the legal issues that tend to take over the conversation.

“Legally, I have complete confidence that we can review our policy and make changes to improve the legal aspects of it, but sometimes it feels like there is a disconnect because there’s an issue between fixing the legal concerns and having a conversation,” Sakowski said.

From a student perspective, Steving said he feels discussions around Title IX and related issues should be focused on better expressing the Colleges’ policies in terms that everyone can understand.

Sakowski and Steving said the Think Smart pamphlet is a good example of bringing policy and procedure into a more relatable format. Steving said the pamphlet is but one of many ways the campus can continue to move forward on providing digestible information to students so that everyone is on the same page.

“With a heightened level of transparency, the close-knit community that we strive for on the HWS campus is greatly increased,” Steving said. “I feel that with a lack of transparency, it can create a disconnect. A heightened level of transparency would eliminate that disconnect and bring the campus community closer, which is something I know we strive for on a daily basis.”

“Conversations like this need to be happening more frequently,” said Doris-Pierce, pointing out that the forum was a student-led effort. She said she’d like to see more opportunities for similar discussions offered on campus.

Flowers said that in moving forward, HWS will continue to find ways to make more resources available and to increase education around the issue. “This is the kind of energy we need to continue to affect change,” Flowers said.

At HWS, there is a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy and a full time Title IX coordinator who manages the Colleges’ response and investigation of sexual misconduct complaints. HWS also offers its Think Smart program, which provides students with resources to know their options in the event that sexual harassment or assault occurs.  A full accounting of information and resources can be found online.

In an effort to combat sexual assault on college campuses, a White House Task Force recently moved forward with its “Not Alone” initiative, which coincided with the Department of Education’s release of a list of colleges and universities about which it has a received a complaint, including HWS. In response, the forum was an opportunity for members of the HWS community to have a candid conversation.

In the top photo, Aly McKnight ’15 and Molly Doris-Pierce ’15 offered an introduction to Title IX and the rights and responsibilities of schools during a special public panel about the issue.