Office of Student Affairs, Peer SMART expand Title IX advocacy

By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer

This semester, according to Interim Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Greg Krikorian, Washington College will see Title IX coordinators and student advocates alike striving to educate and inform the campus community on enacted policies. 

Initially launched in the fall of 2020, the student-led Peer Sexual Misconduct Advocacy and Response Team was created to both engage the College community concerning topics including bystander intervention, consent, and sexual health and wellness, as well as be a 24-hour hotline to assist students throughout reporting and receiving help for instances of sexual violence. 

However, according to Krikorian, due to the complexity of handling these situations, the decision was made prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester to have on-campus Title IX Coordinators and Peer SMART combine responsibilities. 

“As you might assume, Title IX is a highly emotional situation, and asking students to be a part of that — without really strong training and professional competencies — is really unfair, [and] might be doing a disservice to the student who was actually dealing with a Title IX issue,” Krikorian said. 

While Peer SMART student advocates will continue to work closely with Title IX coordinators, it will be primarily within the role of educating WC students, faculty, staff, and other groups across campus concerning Title IX processes and policies. 

“We felt that it was a little bit too much to put on students just in case a survivor called and [had] their cases mishandled,” senior and Peer SMART President Bess Mascone said. “We didn’t want to have traumatic experiences on [students’] end on top of their sexual misconduct experience, so now we’re primarily focusing on the educational side of things going forward.” 

According to the College website, Title IX states that “no person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.” This includes: pressure or requests for sexual activity and/or favors; stalking; sexually explicit pictures or other materials; and attempted or actual sexual violence. 

Both Mascone and Krikorian, alongside the rest of the Title IX coordination team, will continue to establish and coordinate trainings and other educational opportunities concerning Title IX  to students, clubs, and organization on campus. 

 “At first, I wasn’t too happy with the changes,” Mascone said. “But in turn, I wouldn’t want a student to. .. get on the [hotline] phone and then mess up [a student’s] report  — I would feel horrible for that student. So, I think giving that responsibility to adults is a little bit better.” 

The program will also continue to provide necessary help and additional support to WC students and employees and continue encouraging the campus community to practice bystander intervention and reporting if they witness sexual misconduct. 

“As far as going forward, I just hope that the students do recognize us as [the] educational side of [topics] like sexual misconduct, and I just hope that people remember that Peer SMART is an organization, and that we’re here to support other students,” Mascone said.

While significant changes to current College Title IX policies have not been made as of yet, according to Krikorian, the primary goal this semester is to help make policies as comprehensible as possible for those on campus.  

“At the end of the day, [we’re] trying to simplify it, and make it as digestible for students to understand to be beneficial,” Krikorian said. “Often policies get added to and edited, but they’re not clear and concise, [so] how can we make that as simplistic, yet comprehensive as possible for our students?”

While it is uncertain what the future may hold, both Title IX student and faculty advocates — including Director of Human Resources Carolyn Burton, Head Women’s Rowing Coach Kari Hughes, and Associate Director of Public Safety Susan Golinski  —  will continue to change alongside these institutional policies. They will also actively keep the College community informed and updated alongside them, according to Krikorian.

“Title IX will constantly evolve,” Krikorian said. “It’s a political [and] emotional question, and it impacts student liberties, so we need to continually make sure we’re doing the best we can  to run Title IX [because] we have a variety of obligations as an institution, including education.”

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