On Sept. 15, the administration at Wheaton held a meeting open to students to discuss the details of the Department of Justice’s investigation of a supposed breach in Title IX on campus regarding sexual assault policies. Title IX warrants that all colleges provide equal rights and opportunities despite gender.
Many students showed up to the meeting, which had been prefaced by an all faculty meeting several days earlier. President Dennis Hanno, Dean Kate Kenny and Title IX Coordinator Darlene Boroviak helped to explain and answer student questions about the investigation.
The investigation was seemingly launched by a complaint filed against Wheaton (the nature of the complaint is completely unknown). The school has until Sept. 30 to give the Department of Justice all the files spanning from 2012 to 2015 regarding sexual assault policies, which includes other potentially related incidents such as stalking, domestic violence and the climate on campus or sexual assault. Such a short deadline is a serious task but Hanno assured the students that the administration ‘will meet the deadline.’
Once the information is delivered to the Department of Justice, the investigation of this nature will normally span four years, which is what might be expected from this investigation as well. This could loom over Wheaton for quite some time. The administration is still trying to be positive about the situation.
“In a way it’s a bit like a free consulting [on our policies],” President Hanno jokingly said, “of course there will be an enormous amount of energy and time poured into this.”
The worst-case scenario for Wheaton is that the Title IX funding from the government could be completely cut, but as was noted by President Hanno, such an outcome has never occurred from these types of investigations. “The only way [a college] could really lose funding from something like this is if they didn’t take it seriously; but we are taking it very seriously,” President Hanno said, “Nothing is more important to the college right now.”
The most likely scenario is that after the investigation the Department of Justice gives the college a list of policies that must be changed or recommendations, much like the investigation that just occurred with Michigan State.
The idea that the paperwork from old sexual assault cases will be looked over by the Department of Justice was unsettling to many students. Dean Kate assured students that notice would be given to students who the Department of Justice wished to contact as she said, “We will be able to give some early notice to communicate to somebody who’s been involved in a case [that they are going to be contacted].”
Dean Kate also added that all current sexual assault cases would follow the current practices and policies at Wheaton. President Hanno also explained that it was not necessary that a contacted student or graduate actually answer any questions from the Department of Justice that they do not wish to answer, yet all files from 2012-2015 will be shared with the Department of Justice. This unfortunately may give students pause in filing ‘confidential’ reports as President Hanno acknowledged.
Wheaton is trying to be as transparent as possible about this case, even though it doesn’t necessarily have to be. While the Department of Education is a group that normally does these investigations openly, the Department of Justice is very private about investigations. “We felt it was important to be transparent with the community,” said President Hanno, who says he has responded to nearly 150 emails from students, parents and alumni about the situation.
The complaint that launched the investigation has been asked for under the Freedom of Information act, but the college may not get it back for quite some time and most likely won’t be sharing the contents of it with students, as that “would not be helpful.”
The administration at Wheaton, while surprised by the investigation, does not fear it and looks at it as an opportunity to help elevate the school. “The investigation is not the issue,” said President Hanno, “the policies are the easy part, you just write it. It’s the campus climate that needs to change.”