Student Handbook Gets a Mid-Year Update

Although the Connecticut College Student Handbook is updated frequently, Jan. 22 saw a “rare reissue” in College policy, as Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Sarah Cardwell put it. The changes included an emphasis on Title IX and social host policies, providing contact information and a clearer outline of Title IX reporting structure, the transferral of Dean John McKnight’s temporary role as Title IX Coordinator to Dean B. Afeni McNeely Cobham,  and the expansion of approved spaces for hosting social events.  

Regarding changes to Title IX, Cardwell expressed that progress came about naturally. For the past few years, Cardwell  has spent time working with Darcie Folsom, former Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy, on two challenges that the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy faced: coordinating with only one on-call staff member and ensuring student comfort. It is tough for one person to always be on call, especially given the difficulties of traveling for school business and life, and students have been vocal about their discomfort with talking to one person, especially when they have been involved in relationships on campus and have felt awkward discussing trauma.

According to Cardwell, these comments raised the question: “Were there ways to expand confidential advocacy roles on campus?”

After two years of collaboration, Cardwell explained, she and Folsom realized the need to establish a team to address these student concerns. Structural changes were already underway, and the timing was right, Cardwell relayed. Searches for a Director of Race and Ethnicity Programs and a Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy were occuring at the time that a new advocacy team was being created. Heidi Freeland-Trail, the new Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy, trained Truth Hunter, new Director of Race and Ethnicity Programs, and Erin Duran, Director of Gender and Sexuality Programs, to be a part of the advocacy team. The College announced the team along with the release of the new Student Handbook, and students may now report issues or have confidential discussions with any of the advocacy team members.

Before the creation of the advocacy team, Freeland-Trail explained, “I was the only designated advocate.” Now, she says, “we have other confidential resources on campus” that work to address issues of sexual violence and dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Freeland-Trail further noted that giving students options was of the utmost importance for confidentiality. She explained that advocacy and comfort for students is important as they question: “Who do I want support from?”

Cardwell stated that the advocacy team is “fundamentally about creating advocacy” because “students want to talk to different people.” She added that the new policy changes had been in the works since the beginning of the school year.  Cardwell revealed that Student Life had discussed the creation of an expanded advocacy group throughout the first semester and that faculty and staff continued this conversation over winter break. In an attempt to foster conversations about social life, the College is now conducting focus groups where students are encouraged to speak honestly about what they like and wish would change regarding the social host policy and activities on campus. Students have likely seen these focus groups advertised in emails circulated by Associate Dean of Student Life Geoff Norbert and the Student Government Association.

The changes addressed in the focus groups, Cardwell pointed out, can lead to policy change. The social host policy “might look different in the fall,” she said, and current conversations will determine the nature of its changes. The most recent updates to social host policy are the inclusion of Freeman, Harkness, and Lamdin as additional places for hosting events, as the handbook now describes. Student Life intended to expand spaces and spent time looking at policy to see what they could expand.

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