On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, students, faculty, and staff partook in an open discussion about sexual misconduct. Fortunately, no serious event at Bates prompted these discussions. The open forums, led by Lesley Gomez and Gina Smith, two former Philadelphia prosecutors and recognized Title IX legislation experts now at
Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia, were instead held because President Spencer thought that “The college [would] benefit from an external audit of our existing structures and procedures related to Title IX.”
Title IX, which passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Compliance with Title IX is absolutely essential for Bates because the college benefits from federal student loans, grants, and other government money. In Ms. Smith’s words, non-compliance with Title IX is a virtual “death penalty” for most colleges and universities.
Ms. Gomez and Ms. Smith’s work for Bates began with a comprehensive review of the school’s Title IX policies. After examining Bates’ policies on paper, Gomez and Smith then visited Bates between February 26-27 to meet with the various Bates “constituencies”—namely faculty, staff, and students. These meetings served a twofold purpose. First, they allowed Gomez and Smith to get a better sense of Bates culture and to gather anecdotal information about the questions and criticisms the community at large had about the school’s policy toward sexual misconduct and Title IX. At the beginning of each meeting, Ms. Gomez and Ms. Smith had the attendees write on one side of a notecard a fear, concern, or “anything that keeps you up at night” followed by a suggestion or hope on the other side.
But perhaps more importantly, these meetings also allowed Bates constituencies to meet and talk amongst themselves in an open and inviting environment about their own uncertainties, questions, fears, and the like concerning a subject as thorny as sexual misconduct and how it is—and should be—handled by the school and outside law enforcement. Gomez and Smith will use these notecards as well as their own observations in their report and recommendations to President Spencer.
Once they have finished their work, Ms. Gomez and Ms. Smith intend to stay in close contact with Bates; the pair said that their engagement with the school is part of an “ongoing relationship” to help the college remain in line with Title IX and to continue an open dialogue about sexual misconduct.
After general introductions, the notecard exercise, and initial thoughts about the subject of sexual misconduct among constituent groups, the duo then moved into more technical details, mapping out Title IX policies and proceeding to show how several scenarios at Bates might play out under these constraints. According to Gomez and Smith, a student who has been sexually assaulted or harassed has three options. First, the student can consult a statutorily protected confidential source like a doctor, counselor, or clergy member. Second, the student can also consult with someone who has the duty or authority to take action on the student’s behalf by reporting the incident to the college’s Title IX coordinator, Heather Lindkvist. These people include Bates faculty, staff, JAs and RAs, and other student employees. Students can also consult with someone who they reasonably believe has the duty or authority to take action, like a team captain they know and trust. As a final option, the student simply can do nothing.
Gomez and Smith stressed that reporting an incident to someone who is in turn obligated to report it to Lindkvist is the best option for several reasons. First, reporting an incident to the Title IX coordinator will not compromise a student’s privacy. In addition, by reporting an incident, the student will be directed to valuable resources like counseling, support services, or guidance for how to press criminal charges if the student wishes to do so. Finally, reporting the incident to Lindkvist allows her to keep track of patterns and trends. As Title IX coordinator, Lindkvist relies on reported incidents to determine if Bates is moving toward a more sexually tolerant and mutual respectful culture.
Thankfully, Gomez and Smith are convinced it is. Gomez praised Bates for being “very proactive, and invested” in handling sexual misconduct, noting the “tremendous levels of engagement from staff, faculty and students” and a “commitment from every constituency.” Moreover, Gomez praised Bates for reviewing its Title IX policies well in advance of a particular incident. All too often Gomez and Smith are called in after something tragic has happened. At Amherst, for instance, the two were recently summoned to help after first-year student Trey Malone committed suicide in part because the college, he alleged, failed to provide him with the resources he needed after he was sexually assaulted. According to Gomez, it was a prudent move for Bates to “bring [Smith and her] in in advance.”
The author would like to thank Heather Lindkvist for her clarifying comments in advance of this article.