By Brooke Schultz
Over this past year, several Washington College students have brought forth concerns with the College’s Title IX process and the effects on students who report sexual violence.
The Elm spoke with seven students, who noted a lack of clear communication, lack of consistency in handling cases, and an unduly long process. The Elm does not name victims of sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct.
Title IX governs the process students may go through if they have been sexually assaulted. Following an intital report usually filed by the student, there is an investigation which can be conducted by trained Public Safety staff, Title IX investigators, the Title IX coordinator, the assistant Title IX coordinators, the Section 504 Coordinator, human resources staff, or another trained investigator. After the fact-finding investigation, there is either an Honor Board hearing, or a Discrimination and Dispute Resolution Committee hearing (for instances involving faculty, staff, or administration).
Several students said there was poor communication between themselves and Title IX Coordinator Candace Wannamaker or their assigned investigators. Currently, there are about six trained Title IX investigators, Wannamaker said in an interview Monday. The administration is looking to train more, as well as continue training for current investigators.
One student, who brought her case to Wannamaker in November 2017, said that she felt comfortable with what the process should look like during an initial meeting but, aside from one update in early December, “as my investigation went on, whenever I wanted an update, I had to reach out, they never checked in on me, and that was very frustrating. I felt almost forgotten.”
At one point, out of frustration, she called President Kurt Landgraf and left him a message. The next day, she received an email from Wannamaker. The Elm obtained that email.
In a separate interview, another student who was encouraged to come forward by Wannamaker in March 2017 while she was abroad, expressed similar frustrations regarding the lack of communication from the investigator.
When the student first came forward, Wannamaker said via email to her that an investigator would be reaching out. After more than a week, the student had not heard from an investigator, so she emailed Wannamaker with her concerns that nothing was being done. Afterward, she was contacted by a different investigator.
“If I hadn’t said how angry I was, how long would it have taken them to get to me?” she said.
In an email obtained by The Elm, in reference to the delay, Wannamaker said, “My apologies. We were on spring break last week and I made the assumption you would be as well.”
According to Title IX law, “A school may need to stop an investigation during school breaks or between school years, although a school should make every effort to try to conduct an investigation during these breaks unless doing so would sacrifice witness availability or otherwise compromise the process.”
On Monday, Wannamaker said that “We don’t ever stop an investigation. We can continue an investigation, unless there’s criminal charges pending. The police will ask us not to investigate until they complete their investigation. If it’s during the summer, we’ll investigate. If it’s during a break, we’ll investigate.”
The law continues, “Because timeframes for investigations vary and a school may need to depart from the timeframes designated in its grievance procedures, both parties should be given periodic status updates throughout the process.”
On Nov. 27, 2017, another student came forward to the Department of Public Safety with messages of a sexual nature from Michael Wang, then visiting professor of economics, who was posing as a student named Violet Lau. The student received one message on Dec. 4, 2017 from an officer that stated Wang was no longer working at the College and that if Lau contacted her, she should report it to Public Safety.
The student said when she heard students in her classes discussing The Elm’s article “Professor Violates College Policy,” on Dec. 5, 2017, she was surprised to hear they knew more about cases that mirrored her own.
“I was just kind of confused because I didn’t understand what the officer told me and how that related to what actually happened,” she said. “This [The Elmarticle] was the first I heard the extent of it, and that was the first I heard someone put in concrete terms that yes, it was the professor doing this, running this account. It was upsetting to me. It was just really unexpected, I guess. To hear about that, in that context, was a complete surprise, and to feel like people knew more information about what had happened than I did, it was just confusing, disorienting, and upsetting.”
Another student was assaulted off-campus by a non-student in November 2017. According to Title IX law, “the school must still take steps to provide appropriate remedies for the complainant and, where appropriate, the broader school population.”
The student first went to Public Safety. That was then reported to Wannamaker.
“I was given dozens of booklets and pamphlets about SARA and For All Seasons but no one called me and I fell through the cracks, which I guess I wanted eventually—to have my life go back to normal,” she said. “But I do feel like someone else might be at risk of harming themselves and the school thankfully respected my wishes but I feel like a, ‘Hope you are doing well, we are here if you need us’ email would be appreciated.”
By October 2017, she decided to pull out of the process.
In a checklist given to students who make a report, Wannamaker said Monday an “agreement about ongoing communication” portion was added at the beginning of this academic year to better understand students’ expectations about contact.
Of the women The Elm spoke to, several said they received different resources or said that the resources available to them were not adequately explained.
The first student said that she received a booklet about sexual assault and a checklist, which she went through with Wannamaker and signed.
The checklist specifies things such as “VAWA booklet received, advocate availability, confidential resource availability and explanation about our [the College’s] obligation to respond, explanation of campus judicial process, explanation of option to contact police, explanation of investigation, written statement if they [the student] choose, reminder to have no contact with respondent, agreement about ongoing communication, can change their mind about participation,” and more. Each box was checked. The student indicated that, for the “no contact with respondent” slot, she would prefer “no direct engagement” and “separate sections at dinner.”
The alleged perpetrator continued to sit nearby to the student in the dining hall, so she contacted Carolyn Burton, director of Human Resources and one of her investigators, to let her know. The Elm obtained those messages.
The student said that when a friend approached the alleged perpetrator, he didn’t know to what they were referring.
“In verifying with Candace Wannamaker, who did the initial meetings with both you and [name redacted], there were stipulations put on classroom and [club redacted] interactions, but not on the dining hall. I know that you want that space in the dining hall to be your space; however, that was not part of the restrictions that were put into place. It seems clear that [he] knows you do not want to eat near him. I would hope he might change his dining location on his own. … Please let me know if he has changed his location on his own,” Burton responded.
The student sent a photo of the checklist which listed it as a restriction. The Elm obtained a copy of the checklist.
Wannamaker responded that “these requests were made as an interim measure. Our intake form is not an agreement per se, but more like a guide to make certain we are covering all areas with you.”
The student who was abroad during her investigation was sent a checklist, but was never given a sexual assault advocate, other than a number listed on a checklist.
“I didn’t even know what it was until a week before my hearing with the Honor Board,” she said.
When the student asked to speak with Counseling Services remotely, she was put in touch with Dr. Miranda Altman, director of Counseling Services. The two tried to set up a time to correspond via email, as per the student’s request. The Elm obtained those messages. When the student was unable to make the arranged time, she notified Dr. Altman and asked to set up another time. Dr. Altman never responded, according to the student.
Other things, such as an explanation of the investigation and an explanation of the judicial process, were never explained to her, she said. Wannamaker also sent along the VAWA booklet, which the student said was “useless,” as it was difficult to understand while abroad.
“I had no idea about timeline either. I had no idea what to use this for,” she said. “I didn’t know if this was going to be over in a week, a month, a year. I had no idea to which the pace of these things move.”
In total, from the first email on March 6, 2017, the student’s case took until Aug. 24, 2017 to be completed.
Earlier this week, Wannamaker said that it varies for how long a case may take.
“It depends on the case,” she said. “Typically, our policy is…start to finish [for the investigation], 60 days. Most times we finish before that. Sometimes we don’t. If we don’t, our policy states we’ll check in at least every 15 days and let the parties know what’s going on.”
To get to a hearing, Wannamaker said, that also depends.
“We try to have a hearing within another week or two. Again, just depending on the faculty who are available to sit on those Title IX hearings,” she said. “It depends on the case. It could take anywhere from two weeks to six months.”
During the seven months, the alleged perpetrator graduated, despite the fact Wannamaker stated in an email obtained by The Elm that they would have a hearing before he graduated.
In an interview with The Elm Monday, Wannamaker said, “If there’s an ongoing investigation, we will not allow a student to participate in graduation until the hearing has occurred.”
She said that in her time as Title IX coordinator at the College, there has not been a situation in which the alleged perpetrator has graduated while under investigation.
Because the perpetrator graduated, the student who filed the complaint was told that the College needed to check with peer institutions and legal counsel to see what they were able to do. In August, they had a hearing, wherein he was found not responsible.
The student said she took the opportunity during her opening statement to talk about the distress the process caused her.
“When I came forward, I wanted him to not do this to other girls and that’s not a possibility anymore because he’s not here anymore,” she said. “I don’t care what you do to him, but now I have to make sure you don’t do this to other people. You have to know what I went through, you have to know what this experience was for me so you don’t f*** up again. And then they did.”
In an email containing the results of the hearing, Ursula Herz, associate dean of students and director of Residence Life, said, “Dean Wannamaker and I had a very long conversation until late last night about how to incorporate the feedback we received and how we can create a more responsive and sensitive process. It was the first conversation of many to come.”
The student said the whole process was extremely isolating.
“I know for a fact it severely damaged my friendship with a lot of people,” she said. “I was super uninformed which gave me a lot of anxiety because my reputation was changing and I didn’t know how.”
For the student contacted by Wang, she said that, while she knows that the administration can’t always prevent instances like these from happening, the whole experience made her feel frustrated about the administration’s response, and the lack of proactive behavior addressing sexual harassment.
“It felt very much like it was downplaying the significance of sexual harassment and downplaying the emotional and potential safety risks to students on campus,” she said. “Having the resources for students to address sexual harassment is so important to having a positive learning environment, to having a positive living environment, and to make sure students are safe. I would hope that that would be a priority.”
Landgraf has had a series a meetings with several students about the Title IX process, who told him they had waited to come forward and report their cases because of what they had heard about the process.
“I have said to them…sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated on this campus, period. Student-to-student, faculty-to-student—it will not be tolerated,” he said in an interview with The Elm Monday. “We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure people understand. I want this to be a safe environment.”
“I know there are students who are unhappy with the process. The worst thing for me is if a student is unhappy and I don’t know about it….[The process] is being presented to someone who has never been through the situation before and they don’t know what they don’t know. Once they figure something out, and it doesn’t feel good, I’d love to know about it. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the process is good,” said Wannamaker.