Bridges: Title IX Engages Faculty

by Yuna Kim | 4/3/19 2:20am

In the aftermath of Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) lawsuit scandal, students have expressed both anger and disappointment regarding the administration’s handling of this case. Others have expressed confusion as to what the administration is actually doing to address sexual misconduct on campus. Despite being on campus throughout the national press coverage of the sexual misconduct allegations, Blake McGill ’22 felt disconnected from the situation.

“When [the lawsuit] happened, there was obviously outcry, but I feel like I heard more about it from people off-campus than I did from people on campus,” McGill said. “I’m really surprised that there wasn’t more campus-wide conversation about what had happened.”

According to Kristi Clemens, the Dartmouth Title IX coordinator, one of her office’s priorities is facilitating healthy and informed interactions between the Title IX office and the Dartmouth student body. She acknowledged the current disconnect and lack of knowledge about the Title IX office by the general student population. Clemens attributes this partly to the newness of the Title IX office itself, which was only established in 2014.

“I’ve only been in the role of Title IX coordinator since last April, and our office has grown tremendously in the past year,” Clemens said. “One of my first priorities was to take this office from a one-person shop to a multifaceted team and really seek the resources that this office needs to be successful.”

According to Clemens, following the PBS investigation, the Title IX office, as well as other Dartmouth authorities, came to the realization that while policies for addressing sexual misconduct by students were clear, those that involved faculty and staff were not. As part of the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative launched by College President Phil Hanlon earlier this year, these very policies are currently in the process of being more clearly rewritten and reestablished. 

“After this office was established and we encountered increasing reports of sexual misconduct, one thing we realized immediately was that our procedures regarding faculty and staff were not nearly as clear-cut as the one we had made for students,” Clemens said. 

The Title IX office launched “Bridges” this January. Bridges is a mandatory Title IX sexual violence prevention course for all Dartmouth faculty, staff and post-doctoral scholars. Clemens revealed that the Bridges programming had been in the works under the Title IX office for quite a time now, but there had been administrative transitions that delayed the program’s launch. 

“We’ve had Bridges ready to go almost two years now, waiting in the wings,” Clemens said. “But there’s been a lot of administrative change both in this office and in the Provost’s office, so I think as the topic of Bridges has come up, there was always some transition in the way of making this happen.”

Clemens shared that the PBS lawsuit was the platform Bridges needed to incentivize Dartmouth faculty and staff to take sexual violence prevention more seriously. 

“In a way, the lawsuit allowed us to rip off the band-aid regarding Bridges and really emphasize to campus that this program is incredibly important, as it clearly impacts our lives and our students’ lives, and we need to be fully committed to improving our campus environment,” Clemens said. 

The original deadline for completion of the program was March 13. However, as of March 29, 2019, 89 percent of Dartmouth faculty and staff have completed Bridges. 

Women’s gender and sexuality studies professor Giavanna Munafo, who completed the Bridges training herself, advocated that the Bridges program should be utilized as a constant resource — rather than simply a one-time procedure — available for faculty and staff to reference at any time. 

“Bridges provides a lot of important information about how to respond [to disclosure of sexual misconduct] and what our resources as professors are that is not elsewhere available in one place,” Munafo said. “For example, there’s one scenario in the program in particular in which a faculty member closes his office door because a student is about to disclose information, and we learn that this needs to be changed so that he asks the student if closing the door is okay or not.”

Clemens emphasized that Bridges is only the first step in doing what is necessary to inspire a campus-wide cultural shift.

“Bridges is by no means the one silver bullet that will change everything or immediately fix problems in our campus climate,” Clemens said. “It’s not going to stop sexual violence from happening on our campus because no one thing can ever do that. Bridges is instead about starting to offer a comprehensive array of options that provide different ways for people to hook into the broader initiative that we all need to work on together.”

Ana Sumbo ’22 shared her hopes for Bridges to have a positive impact on campus.

“If the College doesn’t confront this issue head-on, then there’s a lot of room for individual interpretation of difficult situations,” Sumbo said. “So I think that spelling out exactly what’s expected of everyone on our campus will be incredibly helpful.”

Although McGill also believes that Bridges could be beneficial for the Dartmouth community, she thinks that more should be done to address sexual misconduct and sexual violence across the country. 

“I think Bridges is definitely a step in the right direction, but I also think that the issue of sexual assault is a larger conversation that has to do with gross disrespect for women and their bodies,” McGill said. “So while I do think Bridges will encourage professors to be more conscious of their actions, if we’re ever going to actually stop sexual violence, we have to address the issue at its root and start respecting people, male, female, non-binary, everybody. Sexual misconduct is something no longer acceptable to sweep under the rug, no matter how sensitive of an issue it might be.”

McGill is a member of The Dartmouth staff.