By Erica Quinones and Victoria Gill-Gomez
As students prepare for winter finals, discussions of Title IX and diversity, equity, and inclusion from the previous year in the Washington College community continues to permeate, even in an online format.
The fall 2019 semester sparked student protests and conversations surrounding Title IX and racial bias on campus.
From a chalking on the Cater Walk which noted the seven Title IX violations which were reported by December 2019, to a protest against racial bias incidents in the fall 2019 semester, these initial movements grew into another protest in spring 2020, a town hall meeting to discuss both Title IX and racial bias issues, and a list of demands from students which was shared across the WC community.
However, many of these conversations on campus came to a premature stall in March 2020 when WC went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They continued online over the summer with the anonwac Instagram account, which posted students’ stories regarding incidents of alleged bias and Title IX violations.
Now, with students returning on Feb. 1, WC is exploring how to reinvigorate those conversations and answer previously made demands.
Dean of Students Greg Krikorian is spearheading Title IX changes, including renewing processes and policies, while ensuring resources are in place for a more holistic campus environment.
Krikorian has experience overseeing Title IX at previous employment positions, the majority of them smaller independent colleges like WC.
According to him, his experience has shown that how first responders handle Title IX reports is vital as it could further traumatize the victim.
“The process has to be painless as much as possible,” Krikorian said as the student conduct system should not be re-victimizing individuals and requires training of those in charge of the process.
“Ensuring the process is painless,” Krikorian said, includes working with the College’s attorney to assure policies and processes are current; implementing annual education for all members of the WC community, not just students; creating various educational marketing materials to be set around campus so students are always reminded of their rights and responsibilities; and deciding how to educate those effectively upon students’ return to campus for the spring semester.
“Making a sustainable education is what’s being worked on…If 30% of students are athletes, that’s a cohort we should target. A second population that could be a target is Greek Life. Both of those are high-risk groups, looking at how we educate them. Then there are other influences like Peer Mentors, RA, SGA, etc.,” Krikorian said.
Krikorian said that during discussions with the Title IX coordinators and Title IX assistant coordinators, they realized the Title IX system was missing a key aspect of the institution — faculty.
They are currently working with Academic Affairs to identify a faculty member who will be an assistant Title IX coordinator and discussing the possibility of making Title IX training an annualized process at every level of the institution.
“I think training is crucial there for investigators and title IX coordinators, how to ask those difficult questions. As a group, we meet regularly, train with assistant title IX coordinators and investigators, feel like I learn so much when we can come together and discuss what’s going on, see that continue for sure,” Sue Golinski, associate director of Public Safety and Title IX coordinator, said.
They are also forming a group of 10 to 15 faculty members to serve as Title IX advocates. These advocates will walk through the Title IX process with students from beginning to end. Krikorian said this will help create a point of advocacy and support for students. Krikorian hopes to have a list of volunteers and draftees who are trained and ready by February. The training will focus on familiarity with the Title IX policy and process and helping students.
Krikorian said that tasks like annually vetting Title IX policies with the College’s attorney and partnering with key resources like the Counseling and Health Centers are normal processes that WC does, but that does not mean those tasks cannot be done better.
Krikorian encourages any students with perspective that can help the development of the Title IX plan to approach him. Current plans include reviewing the Title IX policy itself, so it is understandable, practical, and functional.
“At the end of the day, it starts with community…We can have different points of view, and…any time we can reduce the role that emotion plays and allows us to use intellect, the more effective convos can occur…At the end of the day, our process — talking about anger towards an alleged perp for instance — we have a process and we should allow the process to play out…Making sure we are not prejudging a situation,” Krikorian said. “We can support our friends and our classmates and our colleagues but how do we do that not at the detriment of someone, at least until the [issue is resolved]. We should do everything to help each other, support each other, have civil conversations…We can be passionate without pounding on someone.”
Despite students not being on campus, the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion did not pause for the virtual semester.
The WC History Project was introduced in September, the topic appeared throughout the “We Love This Place” panel series, and the Office of Intercultural Affairs held consistent programming, including the Real Talk series.
Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates said they are currently in conversations about how to continue discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion next semester when some students return to campus.
While Bates said that organic, in-person conversations cannot be replaced, all plans are contingent on COVID-19. She said the planning process for future conversations will be easier when they have complete data on how many students will be on campus, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and further recommendations from Maryland’s government.
According to Bates, one of the biggest questions they currently have is if they will host another town hall meeting next semester.
Hosting regular town hall meetings was one demand voiced by students last semester, so if and how it will occur is an important question. However, while another town hall is being discussed, answers to other student demands are appearing.
Other demands made by students in spring 2020 included a larger intercultural space and for students who commit bias incidents to be referred to the Honor Board.
The former demand will take form in the Intercultural Center in Minta Martin’s basement.
The basement’s renovation has been fully funded by a grant, and according to Bates, will likely be completed by Feb. 1.
The center will have a computer lab, the Center for Black Culture, a conference space, and office spaces for multicultural clubs and organizations.
“Having something actually visible and on the stepping path of a lot of first-year students, that is a conversation piece right there. You have a brick and mortar place where students can convene and call their own that is increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion. When you are a prospective student looking at coming to WC, and you’re an unrepresented student, and you have a space that is catered to the multiple identities of students, that is one way that inclusion is considered,” Bates said. “It’ll be a very vibrant location for students, so I can imagine there will be many conversations about inclusion and equity.”
The bias incident report system is also undergoing some changes, including the addition of an educational portion to the response.
Previously the Bias Incident Response Team, the group who responds to bias incidents is now the Bias Education Response Team.
“We want to minimize the bias incidents that occur on campus, but that of course comes with education, so we felt that was a really important piece to add,” Bates said.
The team reviews alleged bias incidents, providing restorative educational resolutions to students who committed an act of discrimination “that encourage the growth of the individual that address historical injustices and social inequalities,” according to the WC website.
BERT also makes recommendations to the administration about how to foster an inclusive campus, prepares an annual report detailing the number and type of incidents reported and how they were addressed, and develops and distributes information on bias incidents.
While BERT does not issue required sanctions to students who commit acts of discrimination, they make referrals for conduct action when necessary to offices like Student Affairs, Human Resources, Intercultural Affairs, Public Safety, and the Honor Board.
Another concern voiced during conversations in the Spring 2020 semester regarded a lack of communication between the BERT’s predecessor — BIRT — and complainants.
According to Bates, there are spots within the bias incidents review process open for communication, including the initial investigation and the written notification of resolution that each party receives.
Bates said students can reinvigorate the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion from last spring by being vulnerable enough to learn more.
“Starting with ourselves and having that vulnerability to want to learn more, and if it’s something that happens on-campus or in the media or social media, reach out and have those conversations with people in your circles and your groups that you can talk about these different things with,” Bates said.