Kip Lynch ’22
In an email sent out to the Trinity community Thursday afternoon, President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney revealed several updates regarding the administration’s work to meet the demands of the @trinsurvivors Instagram account in addressing sexual misconduct at the College. She last updated the Trinity College community in November of 2020 on the administration’s progress towards addressing systemic racism as alleged by the Instagram account @blackattrin.
Berger-Sweeney described how, as with @blackattrin, the administration “retained a law firm with expertise in these areas to review and assess issues raised…that firm has completed its work and provided us with a set of recommendations that will inform and shape our work in this area. She additionally stated that “The firm also investigated the @blackattrin Instagram account and an update about those recommendations and our response will be provided in the near future,” while noting that “the firm was not asked to investigate specific allegations, but rather to review them as a whole, as well as relevant college policies and procedures.”
As the Tripod previously reported, the law firm retained by the College was Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr, LLP, which is headquartered in Philadelphia. Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas previously declined to release the final report in September, indicating that it would remain “confidential” despite not considering specific allegations or complaints, as the matters are “sensitive” and “should be handled in a confidential manner.”
At the time, Rojas declined to specify whether the firm would attempt to corroborate anonymous accounts with filed reports, though did note that the firm has been “asked to review all relevant reports that we are aware of.”
The first recommendation by the law firm was that the Title IX coordinator should be a full-time position. Berger-Sweeney and the College administration agreed, stating “we are restructuring the roles in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to meet this need.” She acknowledged that “the search we conducted in the fall for the combined role of assistant vice president for DEI and Title IX coordinator was unsuccessful; it became clear that the scope of work was too much for a single position.” Moving forward, the College “will separate those two demanding roles into two full-time position: an assistant vice president for DEI and compliance, and a Title IX coordinator.” While the search for an assistant vice president has begun, a Title IX coordinator will not be hired until after the search is complete.
Trinity had previously committed to hire a Title IX Coordinator in the fall, as well as an Assistant Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but delayed the exercise without extensive explanation in November after interviewing two finalists. Rojas and the College indicated in September that the College would “make a decision during the fall semester.” No update on the status of that search was provided in Thursday’s message.
In response to the second recommendation that Trinity should hire additional staff for the Title IX office, Berger-Sweeney indicated that the College “will appoint and train four existing staff members (in academic affairs, student life, athletics, and human resources) to serve in deputy Title IX coordinator roles.” Berger-Sweeney added that she expects “to have this new structure in place by July 2021. In the meantime, our interim title IX coordinator will serve in her role and is receiving additional training…We will also continue our practice of hiring outside investigators for Title IX cases as needed.”
Thirdly, the law firm recommended that “Trinity should create a comprehensive complaint management system for Title IX and bias incidents, one that helps to coordinate related work among the Title IX office, Campus Safety, the Dean of Student and Community Life Office, the Dean of Faculty Office, and Human Resources. Further, students should not serve on any student conduct hearing panels that involve sexual misconduct or sensitive interpersonal issues.”
Berger-Sweeney stated in response that “the new AVP for DEI and compliance will be charged with addressing some of these needs comprehensively…we will work to expand the use of the online reporting system that Campus Safety and Student Life offices currently uses for non-Title IX incidents. Our interim Title IX coordinator has now received training on this system, so that we may use it to better track and manage Title IX incidents.” She additionally stated that “the college will shortly issue formal procedures for investigating and adjudicating complaints under Trinity’s non-discrimination policy. A multi-constituent group will convene to review these procedures over time to address any issues that might arise in their implementation, including the creation of a centralized complaint management system.”
The College had also announced in September the formation of a Title IX Advisory Board that would be seated by the end of the fall semester. It was not immediately clear if that Board had been convened.
Saul, Ewing, Arnstein & Lehr, LLP last recommended that Trinity establish annual mandatory training for all students on Title IX, bystander intervention, and drug and alcohol abuse. Berger-Sweeney noted that “[O]ur education and training efforts are ongoing and have expanded significantly in recent years. With regard to alcohol and drug education, we now have a full-time alcohol and drug education coordinator through our partnership with Hartford HealthCare…Over the past three years, students involved with Greek Life have participated in workshops on Title IX, alcohol and drug education, and bystander intervention. Further, all student-athletes, coaches, and athletic staff complete mandatory NCAA training on Title IX, as well as training on bystander intervention, drug and alcohol education, and enhanced work on DEI initiatives.”
Berger-Sweeney detailed how “all first-year students and sophomores are required to participate in sexual harassment prevention and education training, and we are implementing required Green Dot Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Overview Training for all juniors and seniors. Additionally, all employees are required to complete training in sexual harassment prevention.”
Campus Safety was also examined by the law firm, which recommended “a regular (scheduled) review of policies.” Berger-Sweeney described how “the firm also recommended areas in which additional policy development or training would enhance operations. Throughout the last three years, personnel in Campus Safety have participated in trainings and workshops that cover the following important topics: Safe Zone, Green Dot instructor, trauma-informed investigations, and DEI programs.” She noted that “[D]uring the spring semester, Campus Safety will update and develop new policies as recommended, and the staff will continue to attend additional trainings as recommended.”
Berger-Sweeney concluded that while the law firm’s recommendations and observations provide a useful guide, “those steps are just part of institutional efforts that have been ongoing for several years and have taken on greater urgency and focus this year.”