College completes Title IX compliance review

  • Hampshire College flag. File Photo

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2018

AMHERST — Hampshire College will take several steps aimed at preventing sexual assault and harassment following the completion of a Title IX compliance review.

President Jonathan Lash sent a letter Feb. 1 to the college community informing students, faculty and staff that, almost four years after the review was initiated in July 2014 by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a resolution agreement has been reached.

“While OCR made some findings about the college’s prior policies and procedures as written, OCR made no findings of non-compliance with Title IX in the implementation of any of our policies or procedures,” Lash wrote. “In its letter of findings and agreement, OCR recognized the college’s committed and proactive actions to address those concerns in real-time, both during the course of the more than three-year review and in the final stages of resolution.”

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender by any school that receives federal funding.

Hampshire College spokesman John Courtmanche said the review, originally scheduled to take about a year, went longer than anticipated because of turnover of employees in the OCR office assigned to the case.

Still, Courtmanche said the college is satisfied to reach the nine-page agreement, which Lash signed Jan. 26.

“We’re encouraged that the Office for Civil Rights has recognized that Hampshire has taken action throughout the three-year review and worked collaboratively with their office on Title IX compliance,” Courtmanche said.

Lash met with investigators and committed to have the review be a way to learn and grow, and to be transparent and collaborative, as policies and procedures on sexual and gender-based harassment and violence were examined, as well as how the college responds to reports of sexual assault.

Courtmanche said some of the major steps taken, all since 2011, include expanding staff from a half-time Title IX coordinator to a team made up of a full-time Title IX coordinator and four deputies; revising Title IX policies and procedures and creating a new model that applies consistently to all students and employees; increasing training for employees and students on the college’s grievance procedures; and developing relationships with law enforcement, as well as the Title IX coordinators of partner consortium institutions.

In addition to these specific steps, revisions were made to the text of its policies.

“From the start, we have endeavored to be proactive in updating our policies and processes to incorporate the evolving federal law and guidance and to reflect practices that are fair and balanced for all parties. I am proud of the work of the Title IX team through this process,” Lash wrote.

While Hampshire has reached a resolution agreement, information compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College, which in May 2014 were both named among 55 institutions being reviewed for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment, remain in progress.

At the time, a UMass spokesman said the campus was part of a compliance review, because no complaint had been filed. For Amherst, the review was prompted by two complaints filed in November 2013. Another complaint came to Amherst College April 2017, alleging that the college failed to respond promptly and equitably to a complaint of sexual violence and the college retaliated for making the complaint

Amherst College spokes-woman Caroline Hanna confirmed in an email that the investigation is ongoing. UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said he was unaware of any resolution to the matter

At Hampshire, Lash noted the college’s work is not complete, and the resolution agreement, in fact, has various reporting requirements that must be followed through.

“We will continually improve our efforts to provide the most current education, training, prevention initiatives and practices in responding to complaints of sexual violence and harassment,” Lash wrote. “This is vital work, and it is the responsibility of everyone in our community. It will always be a priority for us.”

In a related initiative, Hampshire is currently implementing a series of recommendations made to the College’s Advisory Council on Sexual Misconduct and Campus Safety. And Lash is convening a committee to examine what policies Hampshire should put in place to address historical incidents of sexual harassment that involved people no longer at Hampshire.

“I want to recognize the #MeToo movement for bringing to light the experiences of millions who have been subjected to inappropriate and illegal behaviors that occurred in the past, mostly from individuals who were in a position of power or influence over their careers,” Lash wrote. “I salute the bravery of those who are speaking out. They will change our culture for the better.”