Since September, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has worked to replace Obama-era policies on campus sexual assault. In light of these developments, the Center for Health Education & Wellness (CHEW) and the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) hosted a series of workshops which aimed to teach students about Title IX and gender violence.
According to SARU Co-President Dani Pitkoff, discussions on hosting the event started as early as last semester. However, organizers felt a greater sense of urgency after DeVos rescinded some Obama-era policies, such as the “Dear Colleague” letter, which outlines how universities should investigate sexual assault cases.
“We had an outpouring [of concern] from students and people related to the University asking what they can do to show support for survivors of sexual assault and what we could do as activists,” Pitkoff said.
Prior to the workshops, SurvJustice Staff Attorney Carly Mee gave a keynote speech on changes colleges have implemented since DeVos’ withdrawal of these policies.
According to Mee, no colleges have made an official announcement that they will be adhering to the interim guidelines, and two have announced that they will be adhering to the Obama-era guidelines.
Senior Alizay Jalisi, president of Hopkins Feminists, expressed concern about the ambiguity surrounding potential changes in the Hopkins sexual misconduct policy.
“I’m sure that within the last month in which Hopkins has remained ambiguous about its stance, there are sexual assault cases that have happened and that have not been reported,” Jalisi said, “I think that’s extremely problematic.”
Sophomore Rachel Silverman highlighted concerns she has about the impact of the interim guidelines. While she believes it is important to protect those wrongfully accused of sexual misconduct, she said that statistics show that a very small percentage of allegations are false.
“The point of Title IX is to focus on survivors and people who are discriminated against within education, including women,” Silverman said. “The focus is now on the accused.”
Sophomore Madelynn Wellons urged the University administration to clarify their policies on campus sexual misconduct in a school-wide message, adding that rescinding the Dear Colleague Letter has made it difficult for survivors to feel comfortable reporting to the school.
“Having President Daniels or Vice Provost Kumar put out a statement saying that they’re going to be following the guidelines of the Dear Colleague Letter and not changing their policies would help more survivors feel at ease,” she said.
CHEW Sexual Violence Prevention & Education Coordinator Alyse Campbell discussed how the University plans to respond in an email to The News-Letter.
“I understand the University is not planning on making any changes in response to the rescinding,” Campbell wrote. “Additionally, the University is planning to send a broad communication about its position on the new guidelines.”
Following the federal policy shift, SARU asserted that their approach to sexual misconduct at Hopkins will not change.
“As co-director of SARU, I want to emphasize that the work that we’re doing is staying the exact same,” Pitkoff said. “If anything, we’re working much harder to make sure that people know what their rights are under Title IX.”
Nevertheless, seeing the response the event received, Pitkoff was optimistic that the Hopkins student body would continue to be engaged in advocating for survivors of sexual assault.
“It feels good to see students care about changing the environment on our campus and care enough to sit through a few hours of workshops to learn exactly how to do that,” she said. “It was a really amazing call on students right now to be the activists.”
The event held four workshops: Men Can Stop Rape; FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture; TurnAround, Inc.; and Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (NVRDC).
According to Wellons, while FORCE and Men Can Stop Rape were focused on sexual assault prevention and how to help support survivors and their stories, NVRDC and TurnAround addressed advocacy at colleges and discussed the complexities of individual cases.
Jeremy Hardy, the training and technical assistance coordinator for Men Can Stop Rape, led the Men Can Stop Rape workshop. It focused on encouraging students to adopt healthy attitudes toward masculinity in order to prevent sexual violence.
Jalisi attended Men Can Stop Rape and appreciated that the conversation tackled gender stereotypes.
“I wanted to take a look at the issue of sexual assault and how it relates to the way that we foster masculinity within our society,” Jalisi said. “When discussing issues related to gender equity, it’s really important to include people of all genders in the dialogue.”
The FORCE workshop, led by FORCE Co-Founder Hannah Brancato, focused on the Monument Quilt and the importance of creating safe spaces for sexual assault survivors and facilitating healing.
NVRDC was led by Staff Attorneys Ruth Perrin and Maggie Schmidt, who work with on-campus Title IX hearings, criminal cases of sexual misconduct and civil protection order hearings.
Junior Bystander Intervention Trainer Karina Rahaman attended the NVRDC workshop and talked about how it helped her understand the complexities of reporting, particularly with little to no concrete evidence.
“Just from last year to this year, students are definitely more aware and more engaged,” Rahaman said. “That has less to do with the campus environment and more to do with the way things are changing on a national level.”
The TurnAround, Inc. workshop was led by Director of Advocacy and Emergency Services Gail Reid. TurnAround is a Baltimore-based sexual assault crisis center that assists survivors of sexual assault with criminal proceedings and legal action.
Reid spoke in detail about the criminal investigation process with sexual assault cases.
She discussed how Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) nurses can conduct anonymous examinations and how emergency room medical staff are not required to report sexual assault cases to the police unless the survivor explicitly asks them to.
Another issue that was focused on in the TurnAround workshop was the legislative challenge associated with SAFE kits, the backlog of processing them and the problems that arise from how many SAFE kits eventually get lost before they can be processed.
Wellons appreciated the workshops and talked about the importance of students engaging in similar events.
“Most people will at some point in their lives have someone who will come to them saying they’ve been sexually assaulted,” she said. “Don’t keep pressing them for a lot of details. Just tell them that it’s not their fault and that you believe them. Give them all their options, don’t make choices for them.”
On Thursday morning, Provost Sunil Kumar and Vice Provost for Institutional Equity Kimberly Hewitt sent a school-wide email reaffirming that the University’s sexual assault policies remain unchanged.
“Our current policies remain firmly in place, as does our shared goal of eliminating sexual misconduct on our campuses,” they wrote.
Kumar and Hewitt explained that the University revised its policies in 2015 after consulting members of the Hopkins community and reviewing the “Dear Colleague Letter.”
“We will continue to watch closely future changes to federal guidance, but DoE’s September announcements and actions have not shifted the understanding we developed during those reviews and consultations,” they wrote.