LETTER: Healing and Advocacy Collective responds to “When ‘the best course of action’ isn’t enough”

For anyone who is reading this, we talk about power-based interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, the Title IX process, and reference some current cultural examples.

To the Community:

We are writing in response to both the news article and editorial that was published last week in the Beacon regarding the search for a Title IX Investigator. We appreciate journalists, many of whom have played critical roles in bringing national attention to the issues of interpersonal violence on college campuses.

In our roles as counselor/advocates, working alongside individuals who experienced power-based interpersonal violence in the past, we often accompany individuals through the Title IX process. As a result, we have a deep understanding of how the process works, how long an investigation takes, and the role of the Title IX Investigator; we are always working alongside survivors to support whatever they need and want, first and foremost.

The Title IX Investigator speaks with all of the people involved in an investigation. As a result, they have significant influence not only on the outcome, but also on a survivor’s experience of going through an investigation. This is an important role. From our perspective, it is not one that we want filled until there is an individual who is qualified and is a fit for our community.

Not only must a candidate have knowledge and experience with Title IX investigations, how they approach the work is just as crucial. A qualified candidate must be familiar with working within a college setting, the field of Higher Education, Civil Rights, Trauma- Informed practices, and have strong interpersonal skills.

This skill set is distinctly unique from other legal and higher education fields and requires additional training and experience. This necessary experience includes both knowledge and application of equitable processes and practices. Historically, colleges and universities are not responsive to or supportive of survivors. Currently, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education state they are working for equality, while in reality they are reinforcing structures that make it more difficult for survivors to report, have their reports be considered, or participate in an investigation process. Any candidate for the role of Title IX Investigator must understand this difference between equality and equity, and the historical inequity that exists. They must also understand how racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and misogyny are part of interpersonal violence, impact our community, and can be a barrier to participating in an investigation. In addition, any candidate must understand the impact of being part of a small community.

Furthermore, we think it is essential that any Title IX Investigator candidate be able to put into practice a trauma-informed approach. Trauma-informed investigations create a fair and balanced process by taking into consideration the toll that trauma can play, historically, collectively, and individually. Trauma-informed approaches also take into account the neurobiological impact of trauma, informing how an investigator receives reports, interacts with the parties during an investigation, communicates, asks questions, and gathers information.

While we agree that sexual assault and interpersonal violence is not confined to our campus, and that resources should be available to anyone who has been impacted by violence, as advocates we want someone with a great depth of experience and training who is not going to re-traumatize people in the process. Until then, we will continue to support survivors as they work with the small number of external Title IX investigators who have gotten to know Emerson’s policy and community.

Anyone who observed the recent Supreme Court confirmation and surrounding media likely witnessed the myths, misconceptions, objectification, and victim-blaming that too often play out in our society. We do not want to quickly fill a role if it risk that survivors will be blamed, shamed, or not have the option to report because of an investigation process that is not trauma-informed.

Melanie Matson and Greta Spoering are part of the Healing and Advocacy Collective, a confidential resource who support individuals who have been impacted by power-based interpersonal violence.

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