On April 15, 2020, the nearly three-year-old division of student life previously known as the “Title IX Office” announced its new name: Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response. A new logo was uploaded to the website and posted on Instagram, along with the caption: “We are excited to share this next chapter of sexual violence prevention and response with all of you!”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in any educational programs or activities that receive federal funding. “Under Title IX, all college campuses are responsible to act on, report, and prevent sexual harassment and assault,” says Title IX Coordinator Laura Riehle-Merrill in a video on SMPR’s website.
While the name of the “office” broadly is changing (but SMPR is not technically an office, as Riehle-Merrill and Peterson report directly to Dean Livingston), Riehle-Merrill’s title is not. “Title IX is still alive and well, and my title is still alive and well. There’s a lot of recognition that comes with that name,” said Riehle-Merrill. “At the same time, Title IX as an umbrella doesn’t accurately reflect everything that’s happening in our now two-person hub, with half of our efforts being focused on sexual violence prevention.”
“I think the term itself can invoke compliance,” said Riehle-Merrill of Title IX. “Carleton has been compliant since Title IX regulations have been in effect. But it’s just in recent years that we’ve made a decision as a campus to create additional staffing. We wanted a name that was more inclusive of all of the facets. Title IX isn’t going away, but we wanted a name that better represents the growth and focus of our programming.”
Still a relatively young division of the Dean of Students Office, SMPR has grown quickly. In Fall 2017, Carleton first introduced the full-time Title IX Coordinator position, hiring Riehle-Merrill, who had previously been working in Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE).
In 2019, Nora Peterson was hired as Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator, effectively doubling SMPR staffing in just two years.
Hannah Zhukovsky ’21, Program and Communications Assistant, has been working in SMPR since Spring of her first year. When Zhukovsky started in her role, the office was smaller, with only two student workers. Another student was hired the following fall, and three have joined this year.
“Everyone knew the office as Title IX, which is not completely accurate,” said Zhukovsky. “Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. So sexual misconduct falls under Title IX, but the law also protects against many forms of sex discrimination other than sexual misconduct such as in sports. And now that we have a full-time prevention coordinator, and we’re hiring more student workers, and the office is expanding, it made sense to have a name that more specifically represented the work the office was doing.”
“Help us name our office”: Soliciting student input
Conversations around changing the name started around the time Peterson was hired, said Riehle-Merrill.
“Our first step was to ask what our peer institutions were doing,” said Peterson, “While recognizing that not all offices are organized the way ours is. So just trying to figure out—what kind of words are they using, what kind of messaging are they using, and how does that fit with what makes the most sense for Carleton?”
Bowdoin College, for instance, has a program called “Gender Violence Prevention and Education”; Bates has a webpage called “Sexual Respect and Title IX”; Wellesley, Pomona, and Colorado College have “Title IX Offices.” At Oberlin, sexual misconduct issues fall under the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
“Then, after we’d done our research, we put together a list,” said Peterson. The survey, sent out to students in October 2019, was titled: “Help us name our office!”
“The mission of our office is to create a safe and healthy campus community by addressing the upstream causes of sexual violence and providing supportive response for anyone who has been impacted by sexual misconduct,” read the survey’s introduction.
“Now with two full-time staff members dedicated to addressing sexual misconduct prevention and response at Carleton, the Title IX Office is seeking to update its name to more inclusively represent all the support and educational services that our office can provide for members of our campus community,” it continued.
Students chose from a list of six name possibilities, plus a write-in option: “Sexual Violence Prevention and Response,” “Sexual Violence Prevention and Respect,” “Sexual Violence Support and Prevention,” “Center for Sexual Violence Prevention and Support,” “Carleton Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Support,” and the ultimate winner, “Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response.”
While student opinion was varied, one key takeaway surrounded the use of the word “violence”
“The survey really helped us make that distinction between sexual misconduct and sexual violence,” said Riehle-Merrill. “There was clear student response. We had had that dialogue a lot—there’s no right answer, and there are pros and cons of each—but for us it was really illuminating to hear students say, ‘We want this term, because we feel like it’s more inclusive.’”
“That feedback was overwhelming,” added Peterson. “Students wanted ‘misconduct’ as opposed to ‘violence’ in the name.”
“We also thought this might help more students feel comfortable moving forward, if an incident doesn’t rise to the level of something a student might consider sexual violence,” noted Riehle-Merrill.
As to why she and Riehle-Merrill decided to poll the student body, Peterson said: “First and foremost, our office is here for students. We take student input seriously, and we wanted to know what they thought.”
“We are an office for students,” said Laurie Avila ’23, Peer Education Assistant. “So we wanted to know what name they would prefer to make the office seem more approachable. We are aware of the difficult topics we focus on in this office, but we want students to feel comfortable reaching out and seeking assistance when needed.”
Peterson noted that the Class of 2020 started at Carleton before the full-time Title IX position was introduced, and many students started before Peterson what brought on. “So we knew there might be some confusion,” she said. “But we wanted to start that conversation—saying, we want you to know what we do, and we want to make sure we’re serving you to the best of our ability.”
Once Riehle-Merrill and Peterson had received survey feedback and decided on the new name, they proposed the name to the Title IX Lead Team. With their support, the pair then requested final approval from the Tuesday group (President Pozkanzer’s cabinet of senior staff and college Deans) and Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston. After securing this final approval, the name SMPR was launched on the office’s social media pages on April 16.
One part name change, one part “re-brand”
Along with the new name, SMPR has given their logo an overhaul. The previous logo had featured roman numerals “IX” in colorblocked shades of yellow and blue, and read “Title IX @ Carleton.” The new logo features the letters “SMPR” inside a purple circle, with the full name, along with some decorative lines, around an outer ring.
SMPR hired Hannah Comstock-Gay ’13, who does freelance design work, to help develop the new logo. “It was a pretty fun process,” said Riehle-Merrill.
“There are so many things that go into a logo,” said Peterson. “And I had no idea how opinionated I would be about all the little elements! But it was fun, and exciting to think we had something tangible that we could look at to represent this next chapter.”
Ever since the office’s inception, its Carleton-hosted website has been titled “Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response.” But students, staff—and the logo—all referred to the division as “Title IX.” So it came as something of a coincidence when, after deliberating over so many phrasing options, Peterson and Riehle-Merrill realized that they would not have to change their website’s title. “It was kind of an accident that that was what we landed on,” said Peterson. “We went to change our website name—and realized we didn’t have to!”
“So it’s not a total rebrand in the sense that it’s new,” said Peterson. “But there’s a purpose and a mindfulness to everything we’re doing. And that feels exciting.”
“And also a vision,” added Riehle-Merrill. “We’ve seen so much growth. So our mindset, when working with Hannah on the logo, was: what’s something we’ll want to have for the next 10 years, that’s going to encompass what we’re doing?”
Virtual support: SMPR moves resources online
As have all of Carleton’s office, SMPR has been working remotely all Spring term. “I think being online does represent some challenges,” said Riehle-Merrill. “I don’t know, but I do wonder if it might feel harder for a student to reach out to us, knowing we’re not currently able to meet in person.”
In an effort to combat that possibility, SMPR created a page on their website dedicated to explaining SMPR’s response to COVID-19 and the online environment. The page includes answers to questions like, “Can Title IX investigations happen remotely?” and “Does Carleton’s policy against sexual misconduct prohibit online forms of misconduct?” (The answer to both of these questions, by the way, is yes.)
“We needed to let folks know that we’re still here, and that we can still give support. There’s actually a lot we can do virtually,” said Riehle-Merrill.
SMPR’s full range of support services remains available. Students can still file Community Concern Forms, schedule meetings with Riehle-Merrill over Zoom, and initiate formal complaint processes.
The formal complaint process is Carleton-specific—and differs from a criminal justice process. The process involves interviews by Carleton’s Sexual Misconduct Investigator Mary Dunnewold, and, if Riehle-Merrill determines that enough evidence is present, a hearing in front of members of the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct (CBSM). The CBSM is comprised of four faculty members, four staff members, and five students, and for a given hearing, SMPR tries to assign one of each. In a hearing, both parties make opening and closing statements, and answer questions from board. The board then determines whether it is “more likely than not”—a 50.1% standard, as described on SMPR’s website—that a policy violation occurred. If the board finds sufficient evidence, then SMPR can enforce sanctions, which could take the form of required educational programming for the responding party, or a temporary or permanent suspension from Carleton.
SMPR’s informal complaint process involves a variety of support options, including arranging for academic or housing accommodations, ensuring that a student receives counseling, or establishing a mutually-agreed-upon no-contact order with the responding party. Also as part of informal processes, Riehle-Merrill can meet with the responding party to have a conversation about the report and its impact on the complainant.
Another element of SMPR’s policy, which is increasingly coming into view, is that the office can support students who have been harmed by people who are not members of the Carleton community. Though a student cannot pursue the formal complaint process if the responding party is not a member of the campus community, SMPR “can still offer the impacted party supportive measures and, in many cases, help the impacted party access resources in their current location,” as described on the SMPR website.
During a typical term, Riehle-Merrill meets with students who are looking for support in navigating processes back home related to sexual misconduct. “That’s something I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years, and it’s definitely something we wanted to emphasize on our COVID-19 page,” said Riehle-Merrill.
“Because students aren’t together, for the most part, the types of issues students are facing may look really different this term,” she continued.
“Everything in terms of response is still available, all services are still available to students. And for educational resources, we’re trying to adapt to the best of our ability,” Peterson continued.
“We’re not offering all the same education programs that we normally would, just because there are some in-person components,” said Peterson. Peterson noted that the bystander intervention training program Green Dot is activity-based and takes six hours, such that it would not be very effective over Zoom.
During a normal term, student organizations can request educational programming from SMPR, such as Green Dot booster sessions, “How to Support a Friend” workshops, and presentations about sexual violence prevention on campus. SMPR, which regularly runs Green Dot training sessions, does not plan to hold campus-wide Green Dot virtual training. As usual, though, student groups can request private programming.
“If someone is wanting to do Green Dot, I’d be happy to work with them to organize something,” Peterson said.
From book clubs to “Tiger King”: SMPR’s current prevention programming
SMPR has five student workers, all of whom are currently working remotely.
“A lot of my role has to do with educational programming and messaging,” said Hannah Zhukovsky ’21, Program and Communications Assistant. Part of her job involves developing curriculum to present at trainings of the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct (CBSM). For instance, in recent terms, Zhukovsky presented to the CBSM about rape culture, toxic masculinity, and interpersonal violence.
“Now, my role has changed a litte, because this term is really different,” Zhukovsky continued. “A lot of our programming is based on social media, and taking its form online. But another element of my job is to make sure that people are aware of the resources that SMPR has, and to make sure the policies are as transparent as possible. Because I think there is a lot of confusion on campus about Title IX policies, and I think that can prevent people from reporting.”
“Right now it’s about making sure people are aware of Title IX resources that are still available even though people are off-campus,” said Zhukovsky. “And it’s also about sexual violence prevention programming.” All the student workers are working on various social media outreach projects, said Zhukovsky.
“We already had an Instagram and a Facebook, but now there’s even more emphasis on making those places where students, faculty, and stuff can have more information, and we can reach more people,” said Zhukovsky.
Since the start of virtual Spring term, SMPR’s Instagram page gained some 100 followers, according to Peterson. The account currently has 263 followers.
“We’ve been working to take some of the campaigns we’d been hoping on doing this term and adapting them to fit social media,” said Peterson.
SMPR plans to start a virtual book club in the coming weeks, said Zhukovsky. “We’re working on media literacy programs—pointing out healthy relationships in media. Most media depictions are really unhealthy relationships, so we want to point out positive examples,” she said.
One such campaign, entitled “Point it Out,” is led by student workers Laurie Avila ’23 and Nectaree Thao ’23. “We focus on different aspects of healthy relationships—such as consent and boundaries—and give some information as to what these topics mean, and show examples in television and movies,” said Avila. “We felt like the TV and movie approach was very fitting due to our current situation. During this time of essential social distancing, many have had the chance to catch up on their TV and movie intake.”
On Facebook and Instagram, SMPR is currently promoting a Monday, May 5 event called “Let’s Talk About Tiger King: Misogyny, Manipulation, and Media,” which will take the form of a Zoom conversation. The talk is part of what will become a three-part series about sexuality and healthy relationships, said Avila.
“We want to help students develop critical reader and viewer skills, as we’re ingesting all this media,” said Riehle-Merrill.
The “Tiger King” event will be “an open dialogue about many of the issues raised by the Netflix docu-series,” explained Avila, who is co-leading the talk with fellow Peer Education Assistant Alec Jacobson ’21. “Our goals are to ignite discourse on various important issues in a platform that is both accessible and interesting.”
The next two sessions in the series will focus on cultural sources of sexual stigma, and masculinity and sexuality, respectively.
Between Zoom sessions with Riehle-Merrill, ongoing support from staff, critical virtual discussions of popular media, and social media campaigns led by student workers, SMPR is working to ensure that students have the same access to its full, and expanding, range of services in this new uncertain environment.
“Your network of resources does not end at the edge of campus,” reads an April 8 post on SMPR’s Instagram. “Whether you are on-campus or off-campus during Spring term 2020, Carleton is here to support all campus community members who have been impacted by sexual misconduct.”
Has the Title 9 office made any difference in the incidence of sexual assault on campus in the last 2o years, or since I last asked