Wellness Center Begins Surveillance Testing

Written By: Angelie Roche

As knowledge about COVID-19 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) evolves, new protocols and standards are constantly being put in place by college administration and the Wellness Center. The newest procedure is surveillance testing, which began on September 20 after a recommendation by SMCM President Jordan. According to the St. Mary’s website, this means that a random sampling of college students, faculty and staff will be tested every two weeks between now and the end of the semester. Once an individual is chosen, they will be removed from the pool and will not be tested again. The rationale behind this policy is that it provides a clearer picture of how the St. Mary’s community is handling the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole, rather than solely relying on symptomatic individuals’ reports. 

Director of the Wellness Center Laurie Scherer says that the college administration decided to enact the policy using information from the University of Maryland system schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Maryland health departments in order to “choose the best approaches to assessing the risk of COVID-19 on our campus.” She views surveillance testing not as an added burden, but as the next step in measuring community positivity rates, a process designed to keep St. Mary’s students, faculty and staff safe and healthy.

At the beginning of the fall semester, many colleges and universities across the United States announced a myriad of different reopening policies that they believed would keep their students and campuses safe. However, some of those policies proved to be ineffective over time, with large universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill closing just a week after re-opening, costing students and the college itself millions of dollars in losses. For those afraid that SMCM will have a similar fate, though, it is clear St. Mary’s has taken extra measures to ensure community safety throughout the semester. First, the College had students show proof of a negative test before they came to campus and enacted a phased reopening policy, which significantly lowered the possibility of community spread in the first few weeks. The new surveillance testing policy, in addition to safety procedures which are already in place, is meant to measure ongoing risk as the semester progresses.

When asked about the possibility of the campus shutting down, Scherer assures that the decision to send students home would “not be made lightly.” There is no one event or set number of cases that would cause St. Mary’s to close its doors; rather, it is a decision that would be made on a case-by-case basis. One important factor would be a spike in cases or a clear increased risk, which surveillance testing helps to indicate. She urges that students should continue to follow the COVID-19 procedures put in place in order to keep our number of cases low. Scherer also wished to remind students that the Wellness Center is providing a 24/7 helpline available during this uniquely stressful time, which has St. Mary’s therapists available at all hours of the day. It can be reached at 240-895-4200.

Engaging New Platform

Written By: Nicholas Ashenfelter

The student body was recently notified of SMCM’s adoption of a new program, Campus Labs Engage. Andre Richet, the Coordinator of Student Engagement, discussed the reasoning behind this decision as well as his hopes for the future of student involvement. 

Richet was familiar with Campus Labs from his time at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. When he first got involved at SMCM, he quickly realized the need for “an engagement software platform that takes the legwork off students.” SMCM agreed and approved the purchase. This included a formal bidding process with three distinct options, but in the end, Engage had the best features for the cost. As Richet jokingly remarked, “different colored backgrounds aren’t worth 40k.”

Richet pushed for Engage based on the flaws he perceived of InsideSMCM. He described how it is “easy to not notice certain things,” like scholarships or grants in an email filled with text for events not all students will care about. Engage is tailored to the individual student, so updates of relevance will be easier to spot. 

In particular, Engage is meant to help with activities specifically for student organizations, as outlined in their promotional video. Prospective club members can RSVP and save events to their calendar, as well as learn the names of who to contact for more information. On the management side, club leaders will be able to share documents and record who attended specific events, even noting a distinction between “excused” and ‘absent” club members. 

InsideSMCM will still exist, but to a different extent. Students will still rely on that program for messaging outside of student activities, such as general announcements. They will not have to worry about daily emails and will be able to check it more on their own time.  Richet hopes that students will enjoy the new program and find it easier to use than the old system. There’s a tutorial video on the Engage webpage, but if students have any issues they can always reach out to him at mailto:ajrichet@smcm.edu or 240-895-4209.

SMCM COVID-19 Library Changes

Written By: Maggie Bennett

Just like every place else on campus, the Hilda C. Landers library is opening up again, but this time with some changes. The library opened on August 17th for this fall semester, but there were several changes added towards it due to the corona virus (COVID-19). Many rules that we, as students are going to have to follow to stay safe include: 

  • Not moving the chairs on the first, second, and third floor (or any floor for that matter) of the library because they are now six feet apart 
  • There are plexiglass panels installed at the circular tables, so we can follow social distancing  
  • Face masks, just like in any other place on campus, are required in the library as well
  • There are hand sanitizing stations all over the library, and they recommend to wipe down the desks and chairs before and after sitting on them 
  • Students have to make an appointment to reserve one of the rooms also, but they’ve been resorted to being study rooms; so, all students can use them, as long as you keep social distance guidelines. 
  • Food and drinks are allowed in the library as of right now, but if the situations in the library with food and drinks become unhealthy; then they have the right to ban food and drink items. 
  • The public computers and scanners require a special solution, so we cannot clean them 
  • Be wary of tight spaces, like up the staircases and bookstacks of the libraries; we must maintain as best of social distancing as we can when in tight spaces. 
  • There are no longer paperbacked books to take out of the library, because COVID-19 can be transferred through paper (a student has to fill out a form to take out a paper journal, but they have to use this journal only in the building). 

There are so many other rules that a student can brief themselves on with the InsideSMCM email page; these are just a few of them. As time goes on these rules are likely to change, because the campus has changed and will probably continue to change as the semester goes on. 

Life at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) has changed and the library wants to create a safe working environment for all students, but they also want to follow the COVID-19 guidelines. They want to do what’s best for the students here, which is why they created such strict rules. 

The library times have changed as well, they are now mainly open from 8am-10pm every day. An exception to the library being open, is that it will now be closed on Saturdays and it will also close at 7pm on Fridays. 

Michael P. O’Brien Athletic and Recreation Center Adapts to Mitigate Spread of COVID-19

Written By: Olivia Sothoron

With the reopening of St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) for the return of students, the Michael P. O’Brien Athletic and Recreation Center (MPOARC)  rules and regulations have been adapted in order to reopen for the use of students. Although students, staff and faculty are able to return to the MPOARC, exercise this year looks very different, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the College to institute various limitations to mitigate the spread of the virus. 

The MPOARC website lists the various guidelines which must be followed in order to use the facility, including: completing health screening and a temperature check upon entry, arriving in workout attire (no use of locker rooms), wearing a face mask at all times and wiping down equipment after use. In addition, the purchase of guest passes is not permitted this year in order to prevent people outside of the SMCM community from entering into the facilities. 

Another new guideline in place for the MPOARC requires all who wish to use the facilities to register for a specific time to use the equipment. In order to register for a time slot, one must download the IMLeagues application and create an account. Then, through the app, one can select the equipment which they wish to use, and they can reserve a time slot for that equipment. Time slots are limited to 45 minutes, before that time is up, patrons must clean their equipment and leave. After the patron leaves, an employee of the MPOARC will also wipe down the equipment, ensuring that it is properly sterilized before the next time slot. 

Lily Pohlenz (‘21) typically goes to the MPOARC between four and six times each week, where she visits both the fitness center for weightlifting as well as the cardio room, where she likes to use the stairmaster. In addition, since Pohlenz is a member of the SMCM Women’s Basketball Team, she will visit the auxiliary gymnasium to shoot around. 

Although Pohlenz agrees with the efforts being taken to prevent the spread of the virus, she expressed wishes to have an extra ten minutes added to each time slot to allow for her to thoroughly clean her equipment upon finishing her workout. She explained: “Sometimes I find myself just quickly wiping down and not really thoroughly cleaning the equipment I used just because I feel like I am short on time. The ARC employees do come by after we leave and clean all of the equipment for a second time, though I definitely would appreciate at least a full 60 minutes when working out.”

Pohlenz explained that IMLeagues is fairly easy to navigate, and she recommends that one register at least 48 hours in advance of their desired workout time in order to reserve the equipment and time slot they desire. Pohlenz remarked that she thinks having to reserve a time slot is good not only because it limits the amount of people who can use the facilities at one time, but also because it “is a great way to motivate people to go to the gym.” She continued, “If you have to sign up to workout, then you are more likely to go because you went through all of the effort of signing up in advance.”

However, Pohlenz mentioned that having to wear a mask, although necessary, complicates physical activity. It causes her to take more frequent breaks in order to avoid becoming lightheaded while engaging in extraneous physical activity. She also stated that wearing a mask during exercise is definitely more conducive to light intensity workouts, however, workouts of a higher intensity can be difficult with a mask as they make it more difficult to breathe. Pohlenz explained, “I have been and will continue to wear my mask while working out, because I do not want to get sick and I also want the ARC to stay open, but sometimes it is a tad bit difficult.”

It is obvious that wearing a mask is not ideal in an exercise setting, however, as Pohlenz explains, it is more important to be grateful that the MPOARC is open for use. Pohlenz stated, “I am just thankful that the gym is open and I would much rather be slightly light headed/irritated with my mask on than actually be sick with COVID and not be allowed to workout!”

For more information on the new guidelines or to make a reservation, visit the MPOARC website at smcmathletics.com. For more information on the College’s policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 around campus, visit the COVID-19 Dashboard on the College’s website.

Interim VP of Student Affairs Discusses Plans at SMCM

After Leonard Brown, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs, left St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), his position was split into two. Taking the place of Dean Brown are Derek Young, Interim Dean of Students, and Shana Meyer, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs. 

Derek Young

As Meyer explains it, she and Young are responsible for “a lot of administrative work.” She in particular is tasked with overseeing the Wellness Center, Public Safety, Residential Life and counseling. All of this, said Meyer, is to “focus on student needs and conduct,” which she described as “most important.” However, the future responsibilities of these positions have not yet been determined. Meyer went on to say that we will just have to see how it all “shakes out.” 

Meyer and Young have high hopes for this year. They are rolling out Campus Labs Engage for students, a program that can be accessed in one’s browser as well as in the app store by the name “CORQ.” Club leaders have been tasked with inputting information about their extracurriculars so when it is finally opened up to the campus community, students can use it to browse and schedule different club activities. While the school is placed under COVID-19 guidelines, communication becomes far more difficult, and this app, Young believes, will help with planning and outreach. 

Shana Meyer

Meyer also intends to increase collaboration with other departments. In particular, she is excited to work with the newly appointed Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Kelsey Bush, and the Director of Public Safety, Tressa Setlak. This cooperation can benefit the school in multiple ways, but one of the biggest issues Meyer wants to handle is COVID-19 policy. She is impressed with how well students are following regulations, and acknowledges that these regulations will not be around forever. She referred to SMCM’s previous work with a Student Advisory Committee, which helped to create the current policies. Meyer intends to put this to use again “as a sounding board” to try out new ideas in the future. 

Meyer regrets that she has not “gotten the full picture of campus,” as many student activities are restricted to Zoom. Last weekend, she said, she began to see “more students walking around,” so she is optimistic about more in-person involvement. She views it as a result of fear– students want to be here, but they are also scared. Meyer plans to increase the number of available programs for students in hopes of eliciting further activity, with a particular emphasis on the Student Government Association. 

Finally, Meyer wanted to leave the student body a note of reassurance. She found there were feelings of mistrust between students and administration, which disheartened her. She stressed that admins have “[students’] best interests at heart,” and that she wanted to build a positive relationship between the two groups. Even her emails, she says, are sent with the intention of “increasing transparency” for the campus community. 
To this end, Meyer (mailto:slmeyer@smcm.edu and 240-895-4208) and Young (mailto:dmyoung@smcm.edu and 240-895-4207) have opened themselves up to speak to students about any and all concerns they may have. Both are moving about campus regularly, so the best way to get in touch may be to call or email. Or, as Young suggests, if you see him, “just stop [him] and say hi.”

Real Noose or Just Rumor?

Written By: Nicholas Ashenfelter

On Sept. 4, the student body received an email from Shanna Meyer, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs, referencing a potential noose sighting in the woods on south campus near Prince George (PG) Resident Hall. This caused an uproar– one that turned to confusion on Sept. 9, as another email materialized, this one revealing the noose had never been. This left many St. Mary’s College of Maryland students wondering what happened.

The investigation began at 12:15 a.m. on Sept. 2, when Campus Security received a report from Coach Christopher Harney after  a student had informed him of a noose in the woods behind PG. At 12:30 a.m. that same morning, Coach Harney and Sgt. Wendell Wade investigated the woods themselves, but due to the darkness and mud, they considered the route impassable and decided to return the next morning. 

At 7:15 a.m. on Sept. 2, Sgt. Nataisha Young and Officer Mary Bowles worked together to investigate the woods. At 9:00 a.m. they were joined by Captain and Assistant Director Christopher Coons, who accompanied them based on his greater knowledge of the area. In these trips, the security personnel trekked the entire area from PG to Route 5 to the library, backtracking their steps to ensure every inch of ground was covered. 

Young, Bowles and Coons documented and photographed their findings, which indicated a far more innocuous explanation than was initially perceived. The three found what was known to be a gathering site for students–complete with a collection of tables, chairs, and tarps. The officers also found several ropes, some on the ground and some tied to trees, which had historically been used to hang tarps and section off the area. One of these ropes was “positively identified” by the initial reporter as what they had believed to be a noose the night of the incident. Based on the evidence and a follow-up interview with the initial reporter, Campus Security produced a formal report on the event. 

Meyer described her goal throughout this process as ensuring the“safety and health of the community.” In pursuit of her “goal of transparency,” when Campus Security alerted her to the tip of a potential noose, she made this knowledge public. Her email reads that Campus Security found ropes “that were perceived to be nooses”– neither confirmation nor denial of the potentially malicious nature of these ropes, as she herself did not know. This email also included links to different school-sponsored programs about race. 

When Student Affairs received the full report from Campus Security, they sent an email to update students on the results of the investigation, informing them that what was found in the woods was not a noose. However, Meyer did not consider this to mean the administration’s efforts were pointless. The newly appointed Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Kelsey Bush, explained that “perception is reality,” elaborating that perceptions, even false, can impact people as severely as something real. To illustrate this, he recalled a case as a student where people at a party had built a bonfire near a large cross–a benign act that he noted could come across as much worse.  

Bush and Meyer agreed that these perceptions can create “situations that we don’t want, especially right now, in the climate we’re in,” as Bush phrased it. He said he did not want “to tear the house down” in his position, he simply wanted to provide help where he could. Meyer added that “we all need grace”–so neither she nor Bush are asking for anything extraordinary, just care and concern for the members of our community. 

When speaking to Tressa Setlak, Director of Campus Security, and asking about the history of SMCM in relation to instances like this, her reply was optimistic. It has not been “ very often” that they received reports of racial intolerance. She referenced a past case in which hateful messages were being distributed in the area, but on campus it did not become a substantial issue. It was “very short-lived,” but throughout the duration, the office resolved to be “extra diligent” to keep the community clean.

#ScholarStrike: How St. Mary’s Professors are Participating in a National Anti-Racism Movement

Written By: Angelie Roche

One of the most defining moments of 2020 was the unlawful killing of George Floyd. In the months following, there have been numerous racial justice movements across the nation, from the “I Can’t Breathe” protests in June to the removal of Confederate monuments in July and August. Now, in September, activism continues with the #ScholarStrike movement, which arose following the NBA and WNBA boycott. Its founders, Athea Butler and Kevin Gannon, define it as “a movement designed to bring recognition to the mounting numbers of deaths of African Americans and others by excessive use of violence and force by police.” #ScholarStrike quickly gained recognition in millions of academic institutions including at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), wherein our very own professors are speaking out and taking action. 

According to its creators via a CNN interview, ScholarStrike is “a two-day action on September 8-9 where professors, staff, students and even administrators will step away from their regular duties and classes to engage in teach-ins about racial injustice.” This strike has taken many forms — several professors who did not “strike” in the traditional sense have taken the opportunity to educate themselves and their students on inequalities and police brutality in the U.S. Those who are able to have replaced their regular classes with statements of solidarity on their social media platforms and online teach-ins in order to raise awareness about the issue. This mirrors the “teach-ins” that were done in the 1960s during the Martin Luther King, Jr.-era civil rights movement, wherein scholars and professors would use their powerful voices to speak up for the rights of people of color. Now, in the digital age, professors can amplify their voices even more with the use of social media via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. SMCM professors posted “teach-in” lectures on a new #ScholarStrike website, which can be accessed at http://bit.ly/scholarstrikeSMCM.

Two professors who helped organize the ScholarStrike teach-in lectures, Dr. Barrett Emerick, associate professor of Philosophy, and Dr. Sahar Shafqat, professor of Political Science, certainly had quite a bit to say about the racist systems that were created and are enforced to benefit the privileged. In her teach-in, Shafquat examined the issue of the “cops in our heads and our hearts” — how “positive” ideas about policing have been so ingrained in society that it is hard to imagine them as fallible or corrupt. Emerick spoke about how racism is understood through interpersonal interactions, institutions and ideologies; in an interview, he said he participated in the teach-in because “that’s what justice required,” going on to say that it is of the utmost importance to educate others about the structural racism so ingrained in our society. 

On September 8 and 9 — the Tuesday and Wednesday following Labor Day weekend — students at SMCM most likely had at least one professor, or heard of one, who was participating in ScholarStrike in some way. Two such professors were Dr. Cjersti Jensen, visiting associate professor of Psychology, and Dr. Nadeem Zaman, visiting instructor of English.  Jensen participated in the strike by cancelling classes on Wednesday, urging her students to focus on racial justice issues. When asked about her participation in the movement, she stated, “there is racial injustice in academia… [and] I am willing to take steps, no matter how small, to disrupt the status quo until those with power take notice and make change.” Specifically, she said, the racial disparities in academia included hiring biases, who gets into published and into PhD programs, and the groups of individuals who are studied.

 Zaman used #ScholarStrike to incorporate racial issues into his classes, and teach his students about the importance of racial equality during class time, speaking of current issues occurring at and around SMCM, such as the possible nooses found in the woods. Nadeem says he contributes to the #ScholarStrike movement to “be an ally in creating space for raising awareness about issues of racial, social, economic, and other forms of justice”. Many professors are not opting to fully strike in the traditional sense because professors are not unionized, so there is some risk and striking does not guarantee change in the academic field. 

No matter how professors at SMCM chose to engage in ScholarStrike, many are making efforts to be allies to the movement. As Jensen put it, “this is a widespread problem which St. Mary’s and other schools have been increasingly working to address, but systematic and individual change takes time, support, and reminders – like strikes!”

Construction of New Academic Buildings Continues

Written By: Angelie Roche

Photo By: Angelie Roche

Many St. Mary’s College of Maryland students who are on campus this fall — especially those living in the Townhouse Crescents– may have noticed the huge construction site just behind the Michael P. O’Brien Athletic and Recreation Center. The building under construction is a soon-to-be new academic building and auditorium, which will not only house the Music and Education Departments, but will also feature new amenities including a cafe, study area, more green space and several specialized music studios. According to the St. Mary’s website, the project will cost approximately $66 million dollars and will provide the college with a larger venue for future “concerts, lectures and other events.” 

The ongoing construction is broken up into two buildings: the larger, which will house the Music Department, will feature a 700 seat auditorium, with a 2400 square foot two-story lobby, a 125 seat recital hall, eight sound-isolated practice rooms, two ensemble practice rooms and three group practice rooms/classrooms along with dedicated percussion, piano, harp and electronic music studios. The other, which is adjacent to Goodpaster Hall, will house the Education Department, as well as a cafe and a common study area, which will be great resources aimed towards students living in Waring Commons, Lewis Quad and the Townhouses. Additionally, these buildings will continue in the St. Mary’s legacy of sustainability, including high efficiency cooling units, solar panels, and electric vehicle charging stations. 

According to Maurice Schlesinger, the Director of Facilities Planning, these buildings will benefit the students in several ways. Besides expanded space for the Music and Education departments, there will be a “direct walkway from Waring Commons to the Goodpaster Courtyard” as well as a “large lawn area for student outdoor activities” in the form of a new campus courtyard. In the long term, the completion of these buildings will cause space in Goodpaster and Montgomery Halls previously used by the Education and Music Departments to be opened up. The classrooms currently being used by Education in Goodpaster hall will be converted into labs, and Montgomery Hall’s old music classrooms will be renovated to create space for the Art, Theater, and Media Studies departments. The key downside, Schlesinger says, is “the potential disruptive effect of construction” and, for some students, “extended walks around the former athletic field.”

For those concerned that the work being done may have been disrupted by the coronavirus, Schlesinger assures that the Holder Construction Company has “taken significant steps to implement best practices with its subcontractors in its effort to prevent any effects on the project.” In March, one construction team had to quarantine, but the company had another team take over in the meantime. Because of this, there have been no major delays, and the buildings are still set to open in the Fall of 2022 as planned.

President Tuajuanda Jordan Releases Updates on College’s COVID-19 Procedures in Townhall Meeting

By Olivia Sothoron

On Thursday, Sept. 17, Tuajuanda Jordan sent out an email to the entire St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) community announcing that the administration would be holding a Town Hall in regards to the College’s response to the new COVID-19 cases emerging on campus. President Jordan, as well as Provost Michael Wick, Wellness Center Director Laurie Scherer, Dean Derek Young, Vice President for Business and Chief Financial Officer Paul Pusecker and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer addressed concerns over the Zoom call. 

Jordan explained that the way in which the College monitors the status of COVID-19 cases on campus relies upon the college community’s positivity rate for four consecutive days, the positivity rate for two consecutive weeks, the quarantine isolation capacity as well as the county and state conditions. Throughout the meeting, Jordan kept emphasizing that “no one factor will cause the transition to remote learning.” 

One hopeful remark from Jordan during the meeting was that the College is not yet in a position that has made the administration begin to consider transitioning to fully remote learning. She continued that if the College does at some point come to this decision to go fully remote, they will work with the residential population to continue addressing the needs of students who have no place to go. 

In order to clear up confusion and to address questions which are frequently asked of the administration, Scherer explained the difference between various terms which are associated with the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She defined “isolation” as “what happens to somebody who has COVID-19 and is a way to keep them away from the population.” “Quarantine,” on the contrary, is for “someone who has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. These people are to isolate, assess their symptoms and monitor their health.” She defined “close contact” as being “within six feet of someone for longer than 15 minutes,” and most close contact will be eliminated through the use of masks. 

Scherer also announced that the Wellness Center would begin conducting surveillance testing beginning on Sept. 20. An email will be sent out to randomly selected SMCM students–both residential and commuters–faculty and staff to be tested at an on-campus site. The point of surveillance testing, Jordan explained, is to look at the asymptomatic population in order to mitigate the spread of the virus by those who are not displaying symptoms. The surveillance testing is set up through the University of Maryland System and it promises results within 48 hours. University of Maryland Baltimore County is the primary vendor for all on-campus testing in all of Maryland. 

After the administrators spoke, Jordan opened the meeting up for questions. One of the questions asked was in regards to the campus’ decision to continue to allow tours, while preventing friends and family members of students from visiting campus. The administrators explained that the College is only allowing one tour per tour guide at all times, families must wear a mask and must maintain social distance at all times and visitors are asked to complete the symptom check and use hand sanitizer upon entrance. In addition, tours have been shortened to reduce the number of indoor locations that the prospective students visit, and all restrooms are off limits except for the restrooms in the Admissions Building. Tours are continuing in order to “provide the support for prospective students to see campus in a restricted way.”

Another question asked was in regards to the College’s ability to ensure that students are abiding by isolation requests. Director Scherer explained that any student who has tested positive or has symptoms is asked to isolate in a specific unit. In addition, the Wellness Center staff is in contact with the students in isolation daily in order to check in to see how they are doing. Students who test positive also have the option to go home. She also mentioned that a person living with someone who has tested positive should also be quarantined. 

These are very challenging and stressful times and it is important that everyone takes the proper precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, there are various sources across campus to provide help to students, staff and faculty. Scherer remarked: “Watch your health, use the symptom checker and make sure that you are doing okay. If you have any questions, please let [the Wellness Center] know. We care about your health and safety.”

All of the information regarding the College’s procedures for handling COVID-19 can be found on the COVID-19 dashboard on the SMCM website.

Title IX Office at SMCM Discusses Recent Changes

By: Nicholas Ashenfelter

It is no secret that there have been recent changes to the Title IX regulations, but there is some uncertainty over what exactly these changes entail. On August 28, Michael Dunn, the Director of Title IX Compliance and Training, and Helen Ann Lawless, the Title IX Investigator/Prevention Specialist hosted a Title IX Community Meeting via Zoom. Here they were able to shed some light on the details of the new policies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) and across the country. These regulations were released on May 6 of this year and implemented on Aug. 14. 

President Donald Trump’s administration put the 2020 guidelines into effect by changing the federal regulations surrounding Title IX. The previous administration had simply suggested guidelines through the use of a “Dear Colleague” letter. The key difference here is permanence. If a future leader wishes to challenge these regulations, they will have to go through the same process as the Trump administration. This includes a “notice and comment” period, in which every single criticism must be considered. In this case, there were over 124,000 criticisms. 

These new regulations primarily slimmed down what was covered by the Title IX rules, including “narrowing the definition of sexual harassment,” as reported by Lawless. The Department of Education (ED) defines sexual harassment as “any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school’s employee; any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access; and any instance of sexual assault […], dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking.” 

Under the previous guidelines, SMCM would pursue action for students who were victims of sexual violence off school grounds; however, the new regulations do not require enforcement of this– only “at houses owned or under the control of school-sanctioned fraternities and sororities,” as explained by the ED. Mandatory reporters are similarly fewer in number. Dunn reported that the text now reads that “officials with authority” must report events, a far cry from the previous guidelines that included everyone from the SMCM President to Orientation Leaders. Dunn said the ED’s motivation for these changes was an effort to “correct the pendulum that Obama swung” based on their concerns that too little emphasis was placed on the rights of the accused.  

Before anyone begins jotting these new rules down, it is worth noting that Lawless and Dunn are doing their best to preserve the old guidelines, while respecting the new regulations. The wording is that schools “may” act as outlined; despite the force of law behind these regulations, there is a degree of freedom in their application. Dunn and Lawless expressed concern that changes to legislation could come with every new administration, which could lead to confusion on the nature of Title IX policies. To remedy this, they intend to keep as much as possible about Title IX the same from year to year, no matter who enters the Oval Office. Another consistency worth noting is that “the definition of consent is unchanged” by the new regulations– a point emphasized by both Dunn and Lawless. 

One major procedural change for SMCM is what happens after a report is filed. Under the old regulations, for a formal investigation, Lawless and one other staff member would conduct an investigation to determine if there was evidence of a policy violation. Under the new regulations, both accuser and accused are allowed “an advisor, and the right to submit, challenge, and cross-examine evidence at a live hearing”–a substantial change from the old guidelines. In anticipation of potential emotional strain, the new regulations also “[shield] survivors from having to come face-to-face with the accused during a hearing and from answering questions posed personally by the accused.”

In addition to the ED’s requirements, SMCM and the state of Maryland have both provided assistance for students. Schools are permitted “to conduct Title IX investigations and hearings remotely,” as stated by the ED, so SMCM is prepared to run hearings, including cross-examinations, over Zoom. This way, accusers and the accused do not have to be in the same room. Maryland has stepped up to ease the financial burden by providing funds to help obtain legal counsel. This will ensure all students can be fairly represented, regardless of income. Most importantly, survivors can always elect to avoid the formal investigation process. 

Dunn expressed regret that the time frame before implementation of these regulations “didn’t allow for more student or community response,” and said that he wants feedback, which students and faculty may provide through email. So far, Dunn and Lawless have had two community meetings in May and two in August, and hope to have more as the year continues. In addition, one can contact individual members of staff as well as read the Title IX information at mailto:titleix@smcm.edu or read the new Title IX information on the website at https://www.smcm.edu/title-ix/. As SMCM gets used to the Title IX changes, Dunn has only one piece of advice– “stay tuned and buckle up!”