Allison Lyng O'Connell appointed as Title IX coordinator

by Zachary Benjamin | 9/12/17 2:05am

The College has appointed Allison Lyng O’Connell as the new Title IX coordinator and Clery Act compliance officer, replacing outgoing coordinator Heather Lindkvist. Appointed Aug. 16, she is responsible for ensuring Dartmouth’s compliance with gender equity and campus safety laws.

O’Connell began working at the College in September 2016, assisting Lindkvist in her role, and since April she has served as interim coordinator with Lindkvist away on medical leave.

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits educational institutions that discriminate based on sex from receiving federal funding. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to collect and disclose certain types of information, such as annual security reports and daily crime logs. In her position as coordinator, O’Connell will make sure that the College’s policies are consistent with these laws.

The Title IX coordinator is also in charge of ensuring the College complies with other relevant laws against sexual misconduct, as sexual harassment is one of the forms of discrimination barred under Title IX. More broadly, O’Connell will work to prevent sexual harassment, oversee investigations of alleged sexual misconduct and track the campus climate surrounding sexual issues.

“I’m really focused on providing compassionate and empathetic responses to all members of the community,” she said.

Before coming to Dartmouth, O’Connell worked as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County in Massachusetts. O’Connell, who attended law school at Northeastern University, said she was drawn to prosecution during her time as a law student. She chose to come to Dartmouth in order to be with her partner, who is attending medical school at the Geisel School of Medicine.

When she first arrived at the College, O’Connell worked as the Title IX program coordinator. Though similar in name to her new position, the Title IX program coordinator is more similar to an administrative assistant, O’Connell said, helping the Title IX coordinator with logistical tasks.

Since taking over as acting coordinator in April, O’Connell has worked with multiple offices and student organizations on campus. She currently serves as advisor for the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, worked with Movement Against Violence over the summer to aid the group in selecting new members and helped the Sexual Assault Peer Advisors plan overhauls to their sexual respect website to identify active peer advisors on campus. She said she would provide similar guidance to any student group who reached out for consultation.

While O’Connell does not currently have any particular policy changes in mind, she said she thinks it is important to reflect on how policies can be improved and plans to keep an open mind going forward. She will also work to increase feedback mechanisms for how policies are working for people on campus.

“I have a goal of making sure that people know that this office is a resource for them,” she said. “The Title IX office and role exist because all members of our community have the right to be safe and secure here and access their education and working opportunities, and I hope to communicate that really broadly across campus so that people know this is a resource for them and that they can come to it.”

Katharine Strong, dean of judicial affairs, works with O’Connell to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. She said O’Connell is capable and strongly focused on collaboration.

“Also, she’s just fun to work with,” Strong said.

Kristi Clemens, assistant dean of student affairs and director of case management, said she has enjoyed working with O’Connell. She described her as engaged with her work and very accessible, as well as very intelligent, “but not in an off-putting way.”

The College currently has three active Title IX sexual violence investigations open. As of March, when the third investigation opened, it was one of only 14 universities in the country with three or more active investigations. In all, 227 universities had a total of 311 cases under investigation in March.

O’Connell said she could not comment on any active investigations, but that in her experience working with other offices and student groups on campus, there are many people on campus who are passionate about making Dartmouth safe for its members.

In recent years, the role of Title IX offices and sexual violence policies on college campuses have come under increased scrutiny. Some have suggested that current investigation processes are too obscure and do not adequately protect the rights of the accused. On the other hand, some survivors of sexual assault have criticized their schools for not doing enough to protect them from their assailants. Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, recently announced plans to roll back Obama-era “dear colleague” letters, which are sent to schools accused of Title IX violations to remind them of their obligations to their students.

O’Connell said she thinks the independent investigator process used by Judicial Affairs is responsive to student feedback about how to improve and provide a fair process to all parties. She said it is important to monitor the process and make changes as necessary, both by soliciting feedback and by simply listening and paying attention to students.

“It is so important that Dartmouth continue to reaffirm our commitment to doing all that we can to end sexual misconduct here on our campus and to continue to make our campus a safe and equitable environment for everyone,” she said. “And I expect that we will continue to do that.”