BY EMMA COOPER ’20
In an email sent out to the Mount Holyoke community on Feb. 21, Shannon Da Silva, the College’s Title IX and section 504 Coordinator, provided updates on the steps the College has taken in regards to Title IX and the #MeToo movement since the fall semester of 2018. “As you know, last semester we had many dialogues, forums, rallies and discussions about various events that took place in the fall related to Title IX, sexual misconduct and #MeToo,” the email read. “I am writing to follow up on those events and keep this important conversation going.”
According to the email, Mount Holyoke has “engaged with national experts” in recent months, most notably with the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA), to help foster a deeper campus-wide “understanding of issues related to Title IX, as well as the ways that Title IX intersects with other identities and non-discrimination laws such as Title VI, Title VII and 504.”
“ATIXA is the leading national expert on Title IX,” said Da Silva. “They were described to me when I first started in Title IX as ‘the gold standard’.”
Da Silva clarified in an interview with the Mount Holyoke News that the College’s involvement with ATIXA will be a one-year partnership.
Esha Sridhar ’22 appreciates the College’s efforts to keep students informed, particularly since Da Silva was appointed as Mount Holyoke’s first full-time Title IX Coordinator last April. “In my opinion, the response the school has had after [Da Silva] was appointed as Title IX Coordinator has been amazingly helpful. The fact that we aren’t [being] kept in the dark about updates is something I will always respect,” Sridhar said. “I do acknowledge that, in the past, the school had definitely not always stood by its students, but I see that changing now.”
Da Silva’s email informed the community that, on Jan. 30, Mount Holyoke signed on to a letter written by Pepper Hamilton LLP addressing the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ proposed amendments to Title IX regulations. According to the joint letter: “Our primary concern with the Proposed Regulations is that the Department seeks to remove the autonomy of private independent schools like the Institutions, by seeking to impose a uniform, “one-size-fits-all” [policy].” By signing on, Mount Holyoke joined the ranks of 23 other private liberal arts colleges and universities, including three Seven Sister schools (Bryn Mawr College, Barnard College and Wellesley College).
The U.S. Department of Education reportedly received over 100,000 comments on the proposed amendments, and those “of substance” will be reviewed over the coming months. It is unknown exactly how long the process will take or which of the amendments will be put into effect. Currently, Mount Holyoke is in the process of reviewing its own Title IX policy with ATIXA. In the case that the College must adapt its policy to follow the Department of Education’s Title IX amendments, Da Silva described the potential ways Mount Holyoke can continue to assist survivors while simultaneously following federal policy. “Specifically, what I’m thinking about is a more robust restorative justice practice,” she said. “There are some schools that have very formalized restorative justice procedures that are completely separate from Title IX. This wouldn’t be appropriate for every case, but it’s another alternative for people to consider where they can work to hold the person that caused harm accountable and work towards building a community of support to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“So [developing a restorative justice program] is not a small task to take on,” Da Silva continued, “and we don’t have that structure formalized right now. But I think that’s one thing we should think more about if [it changes] the Title IX process and the reporting process generates a chilling effect where the process itself becomes difficult, particularly for survivors.”
At the end of Da Silva’s email, she also introduced the Gender Equity & Title IX Brown Bag Lunch Series. The lunch series will cover a variety of topics, including the Title IX process and policies at Mount Holyoke, bystander intervention and the intersection between racial identity and sexual assault. “Some of the workshops are ones that [Chief Diversity Officer Kijua Sanders-McMurtry] and I will facilitate together,” said Da Silva. “These [events] were our initial thoughts about what we think will be helpful — either things that people have asked us to do or recommended that we do, or things that we feel are culturally relevant.”
“I hope that the Brown Bag Lunch Series will help make these conversations [around Title IX, sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement] feel more approachable and easier to talk about,” said Lily James ’21. “I really hope students attend so dialogue on these topics can begin.”
Sridhar shares James’ position and plans on personally attending each of the lunches. “I have been very personally involved in reforming the aid available to students,” she said. “To be able to provide criticism, I believe that it is essential [that] I participate in the efforts the school is making before saying they are or are not doing enough.”
The first in the series, titled “The Neurobiology of Trauma,” will be held on Friday, March 1 in the Blanchard Campus Center.