On February 13th of this year, The Pomona College Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, the 15 year old peer-to-peer support program, was unilaterally disbanded by the Pomona Administration. Though the program is slated to be reinstated in the coming school year, many questions remain. Why exactly did they need to be disbanded immediately? When they are reinstated, what form will the program take? Why weren't the advocates given forewarning? The decision felt drastic, and without clarity around the impetus behind the choice, left many students confused and angry.
But when viewed in context of the last decade of Claremont's constant cycle of crisis around Title IX, the decision feels more inevitable than unprecedented. Pomona College’s President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence Intervention and Prevention, or PAC-SVIP, it is the third working group to revise Pomona's Title IX policy in just six years. Three of the five colleges have been named in investigations filed by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
These are the kinds of investigations where if the federal government believed the colleges weren't complying, they could pull federal funding. Since Dear Colleague, the Claremont College's have been sued by students on eight separate times. That's a lawsuit a year, and some of them are still being appealed. For the third installment of our series on Sexual Assault at the Claremont Colleges, we're a simple question without any straightforward answer: how did we get here?
Eli Cohen: [00:00] On February 13, of this year 2019, the Pomona College advocates for survivors of sexual assault, the 15 year old peer to peer support program was unilaterally disbanded by the Pomona administration. The program is slated to be reinstated in the coming school year, many questions still remain. Why exactly did they need to be disbanded immediately when they are reinstated? What form will the program take? Why weren't the advocates given forewarning? The decision felt drastic, and without clarity around the impetus behind the choice, it left many students confused and angry.
But when viewed in the context of the last decade of Claremont's constant cycle of crisis around Title IX, the decision almost begins to feel more inevitable than unprecedented. The president of Pomona's Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence Intervention and Prevention, or PAC-SVIP is the third working group to revise Pomona's Title IX policy. in just six years. Three of the five colleges have been named in investigations filed by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. These are the kinds of investigations where if the federal government found that the colleges were not complying with Title IX, they could pull federal funding, all but ending the operation of the college.
Since the Dear Colleague letter in 2011. The Claremont Colleges have been sued by students on eight separate occasions. That's a lawsuit a year, and some of them are still being appealed. For the third installment of our series on sexual assault at the Claremont Colleges, were asking a simple question without any straightforward answer. How did we get here?
Chloe Ortiz: [02:08] So when we were starting to research the issues around Title IX at the Claremont Colleges, we started to notice patterns about how this whole process worked in terms of student activism and changes that were made both in Claremont at the at the national level, so we thought it'd be important to highlight some past events that have happened on these campuses.
Eli Cohen: [02:35] That's Chloe, Pitzer student who's been helping produce the last couple of episodes of DisCo. You'll be hearing her voice throughout the remainder of this episode, and most future episodes of the show. Here is a very condensed interview that gives you a brief glimpse of who she is.
Chloe Ortiz: [02:52] My name is Chloe Ortiz. I'm a sophomore at Pitzer College. And I just recently become involved in this discussion collective project.
Eli Cohen: [03:07] They might as well spare the time. Anywho? We're getting off track, what do you study?
Chloe Ortiz: [03:12] I am undeclared. I tell people that I'm majoring in environmental justice and corporate finances a joke. But it's actually kind of working out to maybe be that way in real life.
Eli Cohen: [03:30] Well, how is corporate finance a major at Pitzer?
Chloe Ortiz: [03:33] No, it's not and neither is environmental justice?
Eli Cohen: [03:36] It's what else do you think people need to know about you?
Chloe Ortiz: [03:40] This summer I crossed the country by Greyhound bus, and just documented it in a few different ways through photography and through collaborative journals and through just talking to people recording some things. But I really, I loved it.
Eli Cohen: [04:01] Sweet. How do you feel about that interview?
Chloe Ortiz: [04:07] Good. Yeah, definitely a lot of stuff that people don't need to know.
Eli Cohen: [04:11] All right. To really understand the climate on campus today, we have to begin at the beginning. And the beginning, when you're talking about Title IX is 1972. That's when the law was passed. And it has since become famous for requiring colleges to provide equal funding for men and women sports teams. But that provision, the one related to college sports wasn't even actually part of the original legislation. Title IX was actually a follow up to Title IV, which was passed concurrently with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and prohibited discrimination in higher education based on race, color, and national origin. It failed, however, to address sex. So in formal legal terms, that's what sexual assault is. It's discrimination based on sex.
The next law you've probably heard of, is the Cleary Act. It's been discussed a lot recently, the law was passed in 1990, named after a Lehigh University freshmen, Jane Cleary, who was raped and killed in her own dorm room. The law requires colleges to report all campus crimes, and its main proponents for Cleary's parents, who believe that forcing colleges to report their crimes would lead them to take it more seriously.
Now, keep in mind, these are not the only two laws that legislate how these cases are handled. In 1994, Congress passed The Violence Against Women, which established new protections for women victims of violent crime. But it doesn't stop there either. Do you remember FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, you might remember it from when you were applying to the Claremont Colleges. And we're asked to waive your FERPA rights in regards to your letters of recommendation. That's because your Letters of Rec are part of your college record. And FERPA protects that record, ensuring that you always have access to it, and that everyone else never does. Well guess what? Title IX complaints are part of that educational record as well. And sometimes access to that record can become a critical matter in certain cases.
So there are four different federal laws. But here's the crazy part four federal laws, but we're just getting started. That was all before 2011. Before the Dear Colleague letter, those were simpler times. Not necessarily better times, but definitely simpler.
TAPE (Kipnis): [06:48] It's a good goal. But they issued these things called Dear Colleague letters that--
Eli Cohen: [06:55] Laura Kipnis, Professor of Media Studies at Northwestern in a 2017 interview with Dave Reuben.
TAPE (Kipnis): [07:00] --were guidance to institutions of higher learning that got federal funding and threatened that if the schools didn't comply with these very vague guidelines that their federal funding could be withdrawn. And you know, most schools get, you know, tons of their funding from the government and research grants and that kind of thing. So all campuses were required of Title IX offices and officers and implement these this guidance, and it had to do creating processes for sexual misconduct complaints.
Eli Cohen: [07:35] A little more context on Kipnis. She's become pretty infamous in this debate. In February of 2015, Kipnis wrote a critical and at times downright mocking essay about Northwestern firing of her fellow Professor Peter Ludlow, after he was accused of sexual assault by two students. His firing was the culmination of a number of Title IX filings and counter filings. Some lawsuits, failed arbitration. Though this seems to all be standard procedure today, it was at the time, a high profile, multi-year legal mess.
And it's what happened next that was truly startling. Kipnis herself became the subject of a Title IX investigation because of her essay, because in her original article, she had dismissed the students who brought the original title nine complaint, Kipnis was accused to have created a hostile environment for all students on campus. Of course, Kipnis seized on the opportunity, now able to use her own experience in her constant critique of Title IX. She has referred to the entire ordeal as her Inquisition.
I bring up Katniss because she embodies some of the more sensational aspects of what Title IX has become. Title IX proceedings have resulted in real justice for real people. But when they don't work, the processes that are brought to bear can be punishing. Sometimes the closing of a Title IX investigation, which can be trying in and of their own right, leaves no one feeling satisfied, understood or healed. And in those cases, things can escalate very fast.
I'm talking about when accused students decided to sue the school, or when survivors launch an investigation through the Department of Education. The Claremont Colleges are no exception. As I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, three of the five Claremont schools have been investigated by the Department of Ed, because the survivor believe their case had been mishandled. And the college's have been sued eight times by accused students who feel the same way. All of this to say, when it seems like the colleges are making decisions about sexual assault, and Title IX to cover their ass. Well, they are because they have to.
For what it's worth, here's my take on the legal landscape right now. You've got an overlapping hodgepodge of statutes defining with sexual assault is, remember four different federal laws bare minimum. So from the outset, letter of the law is unclear. Then you've got executive guidance, the Dear Colleague letter in 2011, from President Obama, the rescission and alteration of the Dear Colleague letter by Betsy DeVos last year and the year before, which only further complicates how the law is actually enforced.
And then you have judicial challenges, the lawsuits and the court cases, which are slowly rendering different interpretations of the law, all across the country. Most recently here in California, a USC football player's Title IX case was overruled because he was not allowed to cross examine his accuser. That's now the interpretation for the entire state. Claremont McKenna has already updated their policy to comply, but none of the other schools have. Why? It's hard to know, in a legal landscape, this murky, what the law actually is this kind of game of hedging your bets.
You stick with what you've got, until your lawyers tell you otherwise.
Okay, legal stuff aside, thank God, right. The campus understanding of sexual assault hasn't remained constant over the last decade either. In fact, it changes for more rapidly than the law does. And we've tried to understand that as well. Because if you don't understand how the campus conception has evolved, how could we even make sense of what we're talking about today? Here's an overview of the major events that have shaped the campus discussion about sexual assault over the last 10 years.
Yeah, go ahead and buckle up. Just looking at the past six years, we found well over 30 notable events: forums, protests, many of which felt like they could have happened yesterday, repeated over and over again.
Chloe Ortiz: [12:28] check check check.
Eli Cohen: [12:35] So I guess the first thing that happens is in 2004, this is actually long before the Dear Colleague letter was even released, the Pomona advocates were the first Claremont college to initiate a peer to peer support program.
Chloe Ortiz: [12:50] So then in 2013, the college's begin to discuss unifying their Title IX policies and thinking of creating a Seven C Title IX resource so that there are less inconsistencies between the colleges.
Eli Cohen: [13:10] It's actually so funny this event featured all Dean of Students, Dean of Students from all colleges and happened at The Motley. The idea of that happening today is just so wild.
But that was only it was only six years ago. Okay, right around that same time, also March of 2013. The first Title IX working group at Pomona released recommendations. This these were things like setting up a Title IX coordinator position to begin with, or even having a Title IX office I mean, these big changes that were necessitated by the 2011. Dear Colleague, it took Pomona two years. Oh, it was also conducted by Tiombe Wallace, a central figure who's still pretty integral to sexual assault support in Clermont.
Chloe Ortiz: [14:08] I believe she does she trained the Scripps advocates?
Eli Cohen: [14:14] That would not surprise me she's an alum of scripts Scripps 95 actually, and I know that she's she's helped train Pomona advocates in the past. You want to talk about TAP? I love TAP.
Chloe Ortiz: [14:24] I guess this was before my time but TAP was a weekly party at Pomona that highlight it was hosted by the Title IX coalition as a student group to draw student attention to Title IX and consent awareness on campus.
Eli Cohen: [14:47] It replaced the somewhat infamous Wednesday night party Pub, which was hosted by KD one of Pomona's fraternities. I guess this was back when Title Nine was still cool. Everybody wanted to be a part of it. So yeah, this thing called the Title IX coalition, which I have since see no recent reference to would put on these these parties that kind of popularized consent culture.
In kind of, I guess, one of the main efforts of the unification process was to launch a website called Seven C's sexual Misconduct Resources. Although now it's been renamed Seven C Support and Prevention, which is perhaps a little bit interesting. But all five colleges got on board to help create this website as a centralized place to understand the Title IX landscape on the college's. This website still exists, but I have to say that with each college's policies never having actually converged. It's a little bit tricky to navigate.
Chloe Ortiz: [15:53] And then in 2013, we see the Scripps advocates group being founded, which would be followed a year later by Pitzer.
Eli Cohen: [16:07] Yeah, and CMC as well, actually, so all three colleges, it was impossible to find the exact start date of Harvey Mudd's advocates, but my guess is they were also somewhere in that 2013 2014 range.
Chloe Ortiz: [16:23] And then we also see the creation of the Teal Dot bystander intervention program at the Claremont Colleges, which is modeled after a national training program called Blue Dot? Green Dot called Green Dot, which trains students. It's a voluntary program, although later on, Pomona president made it mandatory for incoming first years to prevent sexual assault incidences.
Eli Cohen: [16:58] Yeah. Yeah, so that was in August of 2014. A year later, I think it's fair to say was the first real Title IX related crisis at the Claremont Colleges. Yenli Wong was a graduating senior at Pomona, and upon walking across the stage to receive her diploma, she handed President then President Oxtoby a list of demands, essentially, you know, kind of charging Pomona to change their Title IX policies, specifically, referencing her own series of Title IX cases that were mishandled.
A significant portion of the senior class stood up and turned their backs on the president while he gave his commencement speech, people taped over their mouths to represent the silence that Wong had had to endure. She wrote op-eds in the Huffington Post, she was picked up by Slate. It was it was a nationally recognized protest.
Chloe Ortiz: [18:11] And then over the summer, following the Yenli Wong protest at graduation, President Oxtoby released a statement highlighting the work that the college had already done and programs that they had already implemented, and then also sharing some new programs for support and prevention that were beginning and one of those being Callisto, which do you want to explain?
Eli Cohen: [18:38] Yeah, Callisto was created by a Pomona alum of 08. And it's essentially I guess, a website and an app in which survivors can anonymously report their perpetrators. And if the system find matches, i.e. someone who is accused multiple times, it raises the level of awareness and if those records match up, the school can begin to take action.
Chloe Ortiz: [19:07] Then also that fall of 2015, Pomona launches their second Title IX and working group kind of was more behind closed doors, as we've seen more recently compared to the open panel at The Motley.
Eli Cohen: [19:20] Yeah, it was and it was a working group created directly in response to you only Wong's protest because in addition to that protest, she became the lead complaint on a Department of Education investigation launched into Pomona for its mishandling of sexual assault. So the second working group which was not done voluntarily what but was precipitated by very real accusations or complaints made into the the lack of functionality of Pomona's process
Chloe Ortiz: [19:58] 2016 January 1, the Empower Center opens, which is a big stepping stone because it's the first Seven C physical building resource for Title IX support. And they have drop-in hours as well as classes and trainings. And then later that year, they receive a grant from the Department of Justice to expand their programming.
Eli Cohen: [20:28] It was no small sum of money $750,000 given directly to the center for a three year, three year tenure of programming and support. But that three year grant was given in 2016. So actually, this year 2019. The grant is slated to come to a close, so it'll be interesting to see what the next steps are for the Empower center. You want to take these next two?
Chloe Ortiz: [20:57] In fall of 2016 at Pitzer, a list of names of alleged perpetrators were written in several bathroom stalls. And some of those names were people in the Advocates group.
Eli Cohen: [21:10] Advocates group meaning current advocates?
Chloe Ortiz: [21:14] Yeah.
Eli Cohen: [21:14] Wow.
Chloe Ortiz: [21:15] And they were eventually painted over by facilities. And a few days later, advocates hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the incident. And the Title IX coordinator for Pitzer, Koreen Vorenkamp released a statement basically saying that this way of dealing with Title, with perpetrators is not good for the community and is in violation of Title IX.
And instead, as kind of an institutional response to seemingly to this incident, Pitzer launched an internal audit of their Title IX policies led by Koreen Vorenkamp.
Eli Cohen: [21:59] Oh, and Tiombe Wallace
yeah, this is right. In a way, this is like, the original list. I mean, it's not it's not even a private list. It's just a public written on a bathroom stall I mean.
Chloe Ortiz: [22:18] And for all the like the we've heard so many complaints about the more virtual list systems that clubs and organizations have, but they're like real predecessor to those were public lists that have existed for a long time you frequently in bathroom stalls.
Eli Cohen: [22:38] Okay, the open letter. That's important. Do you feel like you can talk about this?
Chloe Ortiz: [22:43] Yeah, it was just a, an open letter in a scripts student publication detailing how a student that wrote the letter anonymously, how Pomona inadequately handled her Title IX complaint. And she was forced to interact with her perpetrator several times on campus and then encouraged by the administration to leave campus.
And then so there was a following that letter, I believe there was a petition send around to students and a protest on December 7, of 2017, on Pomona's campus,
Eli Cohen: [23:29] The name of that protest was the no more violence protest. And I think the reason, right, it was a Scripps student who's perpetrator was a Pomona student, if I understand correctly. And I think that's notable because oftentimes, right, the most difficult contentious cases are happen between two different colleges. And this was certainly no exception. Okay, so fast forward a year, fall semester of 2018, last semester. And the lists the the official list hosted by clubs, those lists were were banned by the Pomona administration in the now all too common all Pomona emails.
But really in in the context of the last six to seven years, it it makes sense that that that kind of this constant re-litigation of what is acceptable organizing around sexual assault, and what is deemed unacceptable, seems to change with alarming frequency, which is even blown out of proportion by.
Then this semester, February of this year, 2019. Two months ago, the advocates for even were even banned temporarily, they don't currently exist, and they will not exist again until next the following school year, this coming school year.
There 's speculation that that their disbandment is still a result of partly of the fallout from from the lists from last semester. But we know that there were a whole host of reasons, though some of them are confidential, that the administration decided they needed to temporarily disband the Pomona advocates.
Chloe Ortiz: [25:21] And basically, according to the email, they'll only be reinstated in the fall once they've received verified confidentiality training from project sister, which is a local nonprofit.
Eli Cohen: [25:35] Yeah, I mean, it's interesting to note, right that the Pomona advocates were the the first advocate program to begin in 2004, I have to imagine they might have been one of the earliest advocates programs in the country. And they were also the first to be temporarily shut down and and re-managed. So in that way, I guess they're always kind of at the forefront of know, I mean, for real.
Chloe Ortiz: [26:03] That's such a Pomona comment.
Eli Cohen: [26:05] It's not it's not i'm not saying it's a good thing, but it's like it's the they seem to be the group that under undergoes things. First, I mean, who's to say what what the hell happened to the. That was a kind of a classic Pomona comment.
Chloe Ortiz: [26:22] You can see how it's like just exactly about every year, every six months, there's some new crisis that thrusts the phrase Title IX back into the public sphere and the general average students awareness, like the issue of the lists and lists being banned, and then the Pomona advocates being disbanded. It's just a, like a yearly cycle we're on.
Eli Cohen: [26:48] Yeah, yeah. So no, that's exactly right. CMC released an interim Title IX policy actually exactly two weeks ago, in which accused students will, through a bit of a roundabout process, but accused students will have the ability to, to cross examine those who accuse them, which is something that has only been allowed since Betsy DeVos came into her office of the Department of Education, and rolled back the 2011 Dear Colleague letter. She initially did that in 2017, it was at the end of last year 2018, that she put out provisional guidelines of her own, the public comment period for those comments actually just ended at the end of January this year 2019. So the kind of codifying of the DeVos guidance on Title IX is only now really just coming into play.
And you can see that in cases like CMC as they begin to alter their own policy. I think I think it's notable that the only college that has escaped some form of legal action on Title IX is scripts. All of the other four have either been sued by survivors who are dissatisfied with their Title IX process or perpetrators, or accused students, who were dissatisfied with their Title IX process. Many of those cases are still very much up in the air, at Pomona at CMC, which is pretty, pretty impressive. Some of them have lasted almost three years in duration. So so the legal morass, that kind of clouds over all of these schools is very real and very eminent most of the time.
Chloe Ortiz: [28:40] Just so wild to have just just like yet another complication of having the five college consortium is there five times as many incidents like complications with this and events and stuff.
Eli Cohen: [29:11] Well, there is Episode Three for you.
If you're still a little bit lost, don't worry about it too much. We've got all of this information and more that we didn't include in the episode on our website, discussioncollective.org. Go to the episode page. We've got a live document that chronicles all of the major events: court cases investigations, campus activism, forums, protests, you name it, we tried to find it and we recorded it in that sheet. Feel free to comment on that sheet. Anyone should be able to will try to keep it as up to date and accurate as possible.
Another huge thank you to Chloe for the research and thinking that she contributed to this episode. And to Lauren Eisen who wrote an incredible article about Title IX in TSL last year. The songs you heard it in today's episode include Playground Love, xylophone version by Air, Lady Brown, instrumental version, by Japanese composer Nujabes, Valteri by German composer Oscar Schuster, and the winding epic Bob Dylan's 115th Dream. Hey, this guy won the Nobel Prize in Literature okay.