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How to report sexual harassment, assault and misconduct at Mills

On the heels of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport movements, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has inflamed the already-present discussion around how pervasive sexual assault and harassment is.

For those looking to understand a little more about how to report or seek institutional support regarding sexual harassment, assault and misconduct, Mills’ policy offers several options.

Mills’ policy regarding sexual violence, harassment and misconduct is part of the processes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It defines what constitutes consent, sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and other forms of abuse both emotional and physical as well as what responsibility the college has in the process.

There are three main parts  to the process: Support, Conduct and Investigative. Title IX Coordinator Kamala Green and Human Resources Manager Jenn Corry handle faculty or staff investigations, Dean of Students Chicora Martin and Director of Residential Life Olivia “Oli” Muñoz focus on student investigations and conduct, and Associate Dean of Students Cassie Eskridge and Student Support Coordinator Lillian González work to provide support options.

In the policy, the term ‘complainant’ is used to describe the person who is reporting the incident, while the term ‘respondent’ is used to describe the person who was identified by the complainant as the offender.

All students at Mills have access to these resources. For staff and faculty, the process differs and more information is included later in the article. However, anyone can report. If a person had confided in a friend, faculty or staff member, that person is called a third party and may also report an incident, either through the Title IX office, the Department of Student Life, or anonymously through Ethics Point online, Green said.

One of the first steps in the process is accessing support.

Eskridge and González are the main providers of support, although all three groups of people can do the same. That support can look very different for each situation, Eskridge said, depending on what kind of support the Complainant is looking for. Green agreed, and mentioned that there are still processes that the college follows.

“It is a situational investigation process,” Green said. “There are hard fast procedures we do have to follow.”

One of the first responses they send is an email (often sent by González) inviting an open line of communication and providing an array of resources, both for on-campus and off-campus support. The email outlines academic support (ex. applying for a leave of absence), housing, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Health, and other on-campus information. Other resources provided include the Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), the Highland Sexual Assault Trauma Center, and the policy itself. The email is evaluated and updated based on information from students and other members, according to Eskridge.

“Student cases come to us through a variety of means,” she said. “We make sure to offer lots of options. It’s important that this person feels empowered.” 

Eskridge said that she and González do not need to be the absolute first step in the process. If a student feels more comfortable telling a friend, staff or faculty, those ‘third parties’ can then reach out for resources from Eskridge and González themselves.

“We send support resources to those friends,” Eskridge said. “If you can remember three things when you are supporting your friend: ‘I believe you,’ ‘this is not your fault’ and ‘you have options.’”

What happens next depends on what the complainant wants to do. If they would like to proceed with an investigation, Green and Corry can assist that procedure. If they would like counseling support, that is also available and would be highly prioritized. CAPS also has strict confidentiality rules, which the counselors will outline in the first meeting. There are a small number of situations where they would be legally obligated to report the situation. If it is an issue of misconduct, Martin and Muñoz can get involved.

“If we need to help with communicating with faculty, if you weren’t able to attend class for a few days, we are happy to help with faculty communication is a student needs that support,” Eskridge said. “We are here and can offer support through processes.”

If a student would like to report an incident at a time when the office is closed, Eskridge said that the public safety department, residential life staff, counselors, and a dean (usually either Martin or Eskridge) are always on call.

“Contact res life and professionals on student life would be one of the first respondents if a student came forward to share something like this,” Eskridge said. “It doesn’t matter when or how, there will always be someone to talk with.”

If a student is interested in proceeding with an investigation, the people to talk to would be Green and Corry. There are two parts to what Green’s role is as Title IX Coordinator: oversight of compliance and the investigation process.

“Compliance is ensuring that we are following the regulations and have our policies in place,” Green said. “It’s also important that we provide timely training and frequent training.”

According to Green, she and Corry also can email the list of resources if they are the first contacts. Training is broken down into two parts; the first is mandated for staff and faculty anti-sexual harassment online training which is in compliance with VAWA and Title IX. The second kind of training is an in-person, scenario based question meeting which is not required but highly recommended. 

Corry is usually the person who takes on the investigative part, Green said which ensures the complainant is safe and has all resources needed.

“In addition, it is important to assess whether any immediate interim measures are needed.  The complainant will have an opportunity to provide a statement then an investigation begins. This includes interviewing any possible witnesses (if applicable), gathering relevant facts and interviewing the respondent,” Green said in an email. “At the conclusion of the investigation, a determination will be decided whether or not there was a policy violation—inappropriate sexually based conduct.” 

When asked if there is one person who goes through the whole process with a student, Green said that an advocacy group is a future possibility.

“We are looking at building an advocacy group,” Green said. “[That’s] one of the goals Title IX Committee has down for this upcoming year.”

Other changes are in the works, according to Martin. A new policy, revised for clarity, is in the works.

“Not a lot in the policy has changed because the laws haven’t changed a lot,” Martin said.

However, it will be clarified and published sometime towards the end of this semester or the beginning of next semester, Martin said.

Misconduct by another student can involve Martin and Muñoz. If the respondent is not a student, then Green or Mills’ human resources department will be the departments or people involved. Muñoz handles most cases as the primary investigator as conduct officer, Martin said, and Martin themselves might hear an appeal.  

Conduct, as outlined in the Student Handbook, encompasses a wide range of topics. Sexual misconduct involves discrimination, harassment, exploitation, or intimidation, sexual violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence and domestic violence.

Martin said that the number one goal is to make students feel safe.

“If we do that well, then we’ve done a good job,” Martin said.

Martin said that most reported cases at Mills are of incidents off-campus, or in the past, and the second most reported cases are around inappropriate boundaries. Police are involved if students ask, but Martin says that they do not have to be part of the process unless there is a safety concern. 

For faculty or staff who would like to report, Green says that she and Corry are available to assist staff or faculty. Martin mentioned that recent fall 2018 hire associate provost for teaching, learning, and faculty affairs Sheila Lloyd has helped with faculty training and putting support for faculty in place. If the respondent is staff, faculty or a third party, the Title IX office which is located in HR will take the lead.

Although Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, has rolled back Obama-era provisions around sexual assault, harassment and misconduct on college campuses (like the Dear Colleague 2011 letter), Mills’ policy will not change much, according to Green and Martin.

“California has a law that outlines what we need to do,” Martin said. “California has a more robust law around this.”

In 2014, California passed the “Yes means Yes” law, which defines active, enthusiastic consent, in an attempt to improve how sexual misconduct, harassment and assault cases are handled. Other provisions in California law include Senate Bill 169

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was set to expire at the end of September, but a brief extension of the bill through December 7 was approved when it will come up for reauthorization. VAWA provides federal support and funding for things like shelters, rape crisis centers and legal assistance as well as many other provisions for people regarding sexual assault, and getting support.

Records of misconduct and violations of the policy are recorded in the Annual Public Safety, Security, & Fire Report, which is federally mandated for institutions receiving federal funding. According to the report, there were zero instances of rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape recorded in 2015 and 2016. However, Martin said that there are very specific definitions for the Clery report, and that some instances that may count for a category, but did not occur on-campus or fit another requirement so the actual number of incidents may be higher. There is also the well-known difference in that many incidents are reported versus not being reported, so the actual number of incidents is hard to know.  

Green, Martin and Eskridge all acknowledge that while Mills has a developed process for Title IX compliance, there’s always has room for improvements.

“There’s always more, but we are definitely striving to have the resources in place,” Green said. “We want Mills to be a safe place. We do our best to counteract and make sure we’re here for the Mills community.”