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Grinnell alumni, 

On Wednesday of last week, the College was contacted by Huffington Post reporter Tyler Kingkade in connection with an upcoming story that he said would focus on Grinnell and the sexual misconduct process. Kingkade identified “three specific student cases” from 2012, naming the students and listing their specific concerns to allow the College “a chance to respond.” We expect the story to run this week.

The College, and President Kington personally, are deeply concerned about the problem of sexual assault and about the welfare of our students, including those who may be featured in the story as either complainants or respondents. Even the most thoughtful coverage may expose painful and deeply personal experiences to public view.

The allegations Kingkade shared with us do not come as a surprise to the College. The three cases he referenced were each investigated and adjudicated under the misconduct policies in the College’s 2011–12 Student Handbook. The students involved in those cases have shared their concerns directly with the College, both in private discussions with administrators and publicly on campus. In fact, the student voice served as a catalyst for change at Grinnell. In response to their concerns, over the past several years, the College made structural changes, implemented a uniform policy that incorporated student feedback, and expanded training and educational programs. 

Confidentiality of student information
Grinnell, like every educational institution, is precluded by federal laws—including the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—from disclosing personally identifiable information from student educational records. These privacy provisions, which protect complainants and respondents alike, apply even if students publicly identify themselves or openly share details of their experiences.

Grinnell’s commitment to student privacy is a cornerstone of our Title IX process. Our progress to date in fostering increased reporting is due in part to our commitment to ensuring the privacy of the people involved. 

Incomplete journalistic coverage 
The privacy restrictions, while consistent with our institutional values and the integrity of our processes, place the College in an untenable position, because we cannot provide open and transparent information about the cases. In some instances, the protected education records confirm or refute Kingkade’s claims. In others, the criticisms he reports on are subjective and cannot be fairly addressed without a full contextual understanding.

This dilemma has fueled a national problem. Without access to protected records, recent media coverage of campus sexual assaults has often been one-sided or incomplete. Nationally, we are seeing the impact of reporters’ efforts to build a narrative without access to the full facts. 
Here is an example of how that lack of access to the full record has affected reporting about Grinnell.

The impact at Grinnell
Almost three years ago, on May 4, 2012, a set of deeply alarming first-person accounts of sexual assault were published in our college newspaper, the Scarlet & Black. Driven by concerns about the experiences students had shared, among other reasons, the College sought an external review of our Title IX policies, procedures, and practices. During that review, which began just weeks later, we sought feedback from students and alumni, inviting every complainant and respondent to share their experiences and concerns about Grinnell’s conduct process. This was accompanied by a thorough review of our policies and procedures, conduct records and allegations from 2011–12. The consultants also conducted plenary training sessions open to the entire community.

Changes to Grinnell’s sexual misconduct policies, processes, and resources
Many of the lapses Kingkade mentions were identified and remedied during the external review process. In keeping with evolving federal guidance and law, additional changes were made during a second-round policy review this fall. An overview of those changes follows this letter.

I acknowledge that aspects of our prior policies and practices were slow to adapt to the rapid pace of the federal regulatory developments. We at the College accept responsibility for those shortcomings. We have worked in depth with individual students to make sure they are supported and their needs met with reasonably available interim and permanent accommodations. 

Yet the fact remains that it would be almost impossible for a reporter to link these responsive changes back to specific student concerns without access to confidential student information.

Inviting federal technical assistance and guidance
In order to overcome this dilemma, on Monday, March 2, the College contacted the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to request technical assistance. We have specifically invited OCR to review the cases Kingkade has highlighted to us. This is an unconventional and, to our knowledge, unprecedented request: OCR is already investigating more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide. So why is Grinnell asking to be reviewed? 

Because, as the federal agency charged with conducting thorough and neutral investigations into potential civil rights violations, OCR is uniquely equipped to view all available information and then advise us, on the basis of the full facts, as to whether we complied with the letter and spirit of the law. Grinnell has a longstanding collaborative relationship with OCR and routinely seeks their technical assistance and guidance on our process. 

We are confident that OCR’s full and unfettered review of the case records will show that Grinnell cared for our students, revised our policies and practices to comply with the law, and attempted to keep pace with changes in how schools like ours prevent and address sexual assault. 

There are risks inherent in inviting OCR scrutiny. The regulatory environment around Title IX has been in near-constant flux since the agency released its “Dear Colleague” letter in April 2011. And continuing research on the dynamics and effects of trauma and sexual assault has led to frequent updates in best practices. Expectations sometimes shifted in the midst of individual cases. But if Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students. Our work should not be judged in the court of public opinion based on incomplete information, but by those responsible for oversight of Title IX, based on comprehensive information about our practices on campus, guided by regulation or law.

The value of student activism and partnership
Campus activism has played a crucial role in raising awareness and exposing challenges related to campus sexual assault. Grinnell students are especially good at creating change through activism, and I am grateful for their courage and contributions. Recent media coverage assumes that students and administration have to be at odds to achieve real change, when experience has shown that real change happens when we work together. 

I encourage you to review the following list of changes the College has made to its sexual misconduct policies and practices over the last several years, many of them resulting from working partnerships among students, staff, and faculty.


Raynard S. Kington, MD, PhD
Grinnell College

Overview of Changes since Spring 2012

Staffing changes

  • Appointed a Title IX coordinator with a direct line to the college president
  • Developed a team of Title IX deputies, each with specialized focus
  • Created a campus-wide Title IX Task Force on safety, responsibility, and prevention, including students, faculty, and staff

Policy changes

  • Eliminated mediation and cross-examination from all sexual assault cases
  • Introduced the option to use ou tside investigators, to enhance our investigative capacities·
  • Required all investigators to attend off-site training
  • Converted conduct process from a hearing model to an single adjudicator model
  • Engaged a former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice as our first external adjudicator·Reaffirmed that those involved in the conduct process could choose anyone they wished as support persons to accompany them in the process
  • Centralized the institutional response process, making it easier for students, faculty, and staff to seek help
  • More clearly defined the types of sexual harassment prohibited by the policy
  • Accepted student-led proposal to change the standard from effective consent to affirmative consent·Issued statements defining acceptable behaviors and affirming our commitment to prompt and thorough response
  • Instituted timeframes for the conduct process
  • Launched a biannual sexual climate survey, starting in 2013
  • Increased the retention time for audio recordings of conduct hearings to seven years after conclusion of the process
  • Ensured that each party has the full and fair opportunity to review case information·
  • Provided trained support persons for complainants and respondents

Resource changes

  • Published a wide array of sexual assault resources, including a website and FAQ
  • Strengthened our relationship with crisis intervention services, local law enforcement, and campus advocates
  • Completed 75+ trainings for students, faculty, staff, Trustees, and alumni volunteers
  • Developed active bystander and peer-to-peer education programs

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