Title IX policies evolve

After hearing the concerns of hundreds of students both in person and online, the Title IX Working Group published its report on July 14. As the year progresses, the group’s recommendations are being implemented as campus policy, causing changes in campus administration and reporting as well as behind-the-scenes developments.

Some of the most visible changes include the addition of new staff members. Attorney Carl Lehmann ’91 now serves on the President’s Leadership Team as General Counsel. A 1991 graduate of St. Olaf, Lehmann kept a working relationship with the college as a lawyer with Gray Plant and Mooty (GPM), a corporate law firm.

The full-time position of Title IX case manager was created as a result of the Working Group’s suggestions, and is currently filled by Kari Ogrodowski. After graduating from Grinnell, Ogrodowski served in Washington, D.C. as a case manager for the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. before working as a collaboration specialist and program coordinator for Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) for three years. As the Title IX case manager, Ogrodowski will guide complainants and respondents through the intake process after a report is filed.

The Title IX Working Group has also influenced St. Olaf policy concerning college employees and their responsibilities for reporting sexual misconduct. Students are now better informed of the resources available to them if they are affected by sexual misconduct, including where they can seek confidential support if they do not feel ready to report. With the exception of the Counseling Center (Boe House), the campus pastors, SARN and Health Services, most St. Olaf employees are mandatory reporters of sexual misconduct. Student staff, such as Junior Counselors (JCs) and Resident Assistants (RAs), have the same obligations unless misconduct is reported to them while they are not serving in their capacities as Residence Life employees.

“If I’m a JC in Ytterboe and one of the students that I’m responsible for comes and reports [sexual misconduct] to me, then I’m in the role of an employee and would have to share that,” Title IX Coordinator Jo Beld said at a community forum discussing sexual misconduct prevention and response. “But if my friend, who lives in another residence and with whom I have no resident-staff relationship, reports [misconduct] to me … I would not be in the role of a responsible employee and so I wouldn’t report, particularly if my friend said [not to report].”

The act and consequences of reporting sexual misconduct have evolved since the Working Group’s recommendations were implemented. Filing a report is a completely separate process from beginning an investigation, which is contingent on the wishes of the complainant. Also, students impressed upon the Working Group that safety alerts following a report of misconduct were barriers to reporting, and policy has changed to allow complainants to choose whether the basic information of an incident is shared with the college community. Finally, confidential reporting can now be completed online, and the Title IX team is looking into ways to reach out to confidential reporters who are victims of sexual assault while simultaneously respecting their anonymity.

Another visible result of the Working Group’s recommendations is the Coordinated Response – or CORE – team comprised of the Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students, Director of Public Safety and Title IX case manager. Lehmann, in his position as General Counsel, will provide ongoing legal advice and consultation to the group as it follows individual cases from their inception through completion, ensuring thoroughness and consistency while keeping cases on track to be completed within 60 days.

All of the Working Group’s suggestions have been implemented or initiated. The full effects of the policy changes remain to be seen, though Beld cautioned against drawing comparisons between the results of current and former policies, given the lack of an accurate and comprehensive baseline.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to say with certainty that students are happier [with policy] or we have fewer instances of sexual misconduct [as a result of these policies],” Beld said. “I would say, anecdotally, that the students who have interacted, in particular, with our case manager have, I think, been better informed about how the process works, what their options are, and what resources are available to support them.”

Now that the Working Group’s recommendations have been implemented, Beld said the Title IX team is emphasizing the prevention of sexual misconduct.

“Prevention is the next frontier,” Beld said. “We’re in a place now where we can work even more collaboratively with SARN and with the It’s On Us campaign while … addressing the nexus between alcohol and sexual misconduct and harassment.”