District and campus to revise polices and procedures on sexual harassment

In the wake of a report that a student was sexually harassed by a Cosumnes River College counselor, officials at the Los Rios Community College District and campus are looking to revise their policies and procedures around dealing with cases of sexual harassment as well as make the resources available more visible.

Prior to CRC student Iris Perez going public at a March 14 LRCCD Board of Trustees meeting about being sexually harassed by counselor Hoyt Fong, LRCCD was already working to strengthen training for students and faculty around the issue of sexual misconduct in light of the current cultural spotlight on such issues.

“There has been a recent decision to have a mandatory faculty training on sexual harassment, which I think is an extremely positive move,” said CRC College President Edward Bush.

That decision dates back to February when Chancellor Brian King released a memo detailing some of the changes Los Rios would be making to protect students and faculty who had been victims of sexual harassment. Prior to this, sexual harassment training for Los Rios employees had been optional, Bush said.

On March 22, King announced that the district would convene a special cabinet meeting to look into changes that could be made to the current policies and procedures around cases of sexual harassment.

Those procedures currently read, “The District shall take appropriate steps to halt any sexual harassment and prevent its recurrence and shall take appropriate steps to remedy the effects of any sexual harassment,” according to the sexual harassment policy P-2424.

While the district policies do not specify how to prevent the recurrence of sexual harassment, King’s March 22 memo states that draft of new policies, which will be proposed in April, will more clearly address the issue of hiring anyone found responsible for sexual harassment.

The memo states that draft changes “would codify the existing practice of prohibiting the rehire of any employee who resigns or retires in the midst of an ongoing investigation into serious misconduct, unless that employee is exonerated as a result of the investigation.”

Commonly referenced in sexual harassment claims is Title IX, which comes from Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. There it states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The Title IX Officer on a campus will coordinate the efforts behind harassment claims, making sure action is being taking and keeping information flowing to the right people.

CRC College Equity Officer Alexander Casareno’s position has him looking into the cases of unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment, putting together his findings in a report for his superiors and the victim. When it comes to investigating claims, he said that he has a lower burden of proof in his investigations than one would find in court.

“If it just seems like it’s on that edge, I can’t say definitively X, Y and Z happened, but it very well may have happened, then I can say it’s substantiated at the point. It’s not a legal standard at all,” Casareno said.

The policies do not include any sort of mandatory reporting to the campus community when a faculty member is found responsible for sexual misconduct, due to the college’s obligation to protecting the confidentiality of the parties involved. But both Casareno and CRC Vice President and Title IX officer Kimberly McDaniel said that the victim of such cases is given a report of the findings by human resources and is free to disclose those findings however they see fit.

Sexual misconduct is an issue that is particularly pronounced on college campuses.

One in five women on college campuses is sexually assaulted and of those victims only one in five report those incidents, according a report in 2017 by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

The district is not only looking to strengthen their policies, but to also improve their outreach regarding the services available to students. It’s to emphasize that students can feel safe reporting any interactions which make them uncomfortable.

Part of the effort the district has made to create that comfort is by partnering with the organization WEAVE, which offers confidential counseling and support to anyone who has suffered domestic or sexual violence.

Elissa Crandall is the WEAVE counselor who works on campus. She is not employed by Los Rios and emphasized confidentiality as a critical component of her partnership with the campus.

“My role here is really specific to being just a support person so that you can talk to someone and know that it is legally never going to leave this room unless you ask for it,” said Crandall.

Crandall said that she keeps “non-identifying” records of the incidents, which are reported to keep statistics for the Clery report. The Clery report mandates that reported crime data is kept for all colleges.

Crandall said students can be assured that their talk with her and their identity is completely safe. She is mandated by the state to not report any identifying information and she cannot report anything that was said to the school or the police unless the student wants her to do so.

Bush said that the school is looking for ways to get students the information about the resources available on an ongoing basis, but emphasized the importance of students feeling safe in talking to faculty.

“Part of our messaging is going to be continuing to reiterate that this is the process and this is who you talk to but also we want to make sure that you have an environment where you are comfortable in having a conversation with someone who works at this institution,” Bush said.

The WEAVE Advocate is available on campus at the Health Center in the Police Building on Thursdays from 10am to 3:30pm or by e-mail at [email protected]