Additional forums held for Conservatory

Recent conversations on campus regarding Baldwin Wallace’s handling of sexual misconduct issues have high-lighted confusion by students, staff and faculty about issues related to Title IX investigations.

CJ Harkness, BW’s chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator, said he has become more aware of a lack of understanding across campus about current policies and procedures for sexual misconduct reports and investigations.

While he said this confusion was not limited to the Conservatory, he noted that several concerns were raised from and about the school at the Jan. 17 campus-wide forum on safety, and that he is addressing various departments on campus, beginning with the Conservatory, to help victims of sexual misconduct to understand their options in reporting and moving forward with university charges.

These discussions are also aimed to help mandated reporters—which include all BW employees except healthcare staff, counseling staff, and clergy—to understand their role and obligations in the reporting process. Harkness met with Conservatory students on Feb. 5 and faculty on Feb. 13.

Susan Van Vorst, dean of the Conservatory, said that though it is “unfortunate” that these concerns “bubbled up” in the Conservatory, she thinks that the opportunity for clear and intentional dialogue on these important issues is a positive thing.

“I think the fact that we are now in a space where we’re having, it seems like, more intentional conversation, more forums, more dialogue, I think that’s terrific, because right now, we’re kind of deal ing in facts and reality rather than rumor, and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Harkness said that his message was “simple” in these addresses. First, he emphasized that the Conservatory is “absolutely a part of Baldwin Wallace University,” and though he is working to “understand the disconnect that clearly at least some in that community have,” the department is not separate from BW at large. He also pointed out sexual misconduct is an issue that should be addressed directly by the university through the Title IX process.

“You have no obligation to report to people in the Conservatory if that’s not your desire to do so,” Harkness said. “You can come directly to university channels to report misconduct.”

Sexual misconduct issues fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX, a federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination— including sexual harassment and assault—from educational institutions that receive federal funding.

With issues related to the Conservatory raised at the Jan. 17 campus-wide forum and with two subsequent forums within the school, the particular nature of reporting Title IX complaints in the school has become an issue for some Conservatory students.

Victoria Lero, a senior music education major, said she feels her own sexual misconduct case played out differently because she was a Conservatory student and that she felt that the nature of study at the Conservatory presented unique challenges to her investigation and to honoring her no-contact order.

Lero said that the individualized nature of students’ study at the Conservatory presents challenges to implementing sexual misconduct policies and no-contact orders, particularly those that pertain to faculty.

For example, most Conservatory majors, she said, are required to have weekly, hour-long private lessons with a studio teacher for every semester of their undergraduate study. In some cases, said Lero, this studio teacher also may coach chamber groups or lead other ensembles the student is involved in, and for a number of instruments, only one teacher is regularly employed by the school.

Also, many students will participate in one or more large ensembles—like a choir, orchestra, wind ensemble or jazz band—for many or all semesters of their undergraduate study, which involves meeting with the same conductor and many of the same students for a few hours each week.

As a result, she said, when she had a sexual misconduct case against her primary instrument studio instructor, who is no longer employed by BW, it served as an example of how a sexual misconduct issue in the Conservatory can interfere with one’s study.

Because she requested a restriction of contact against this individual who was both her primary instrument studio teacher and an ensemble director, Conservatory administration had to find another teacher for her to study her instrument with and, to avoid the professor, she stopped participating in the ensemble. She also dropped a chamber group that the faculty member was coaching and dropped her second major in instrumental performance.

Based on her experience, Lero believes that the Conservatory presents unique challenges to seeking an investigation or no-contact order against a Conservatory faculty member or student, and that current university policies and procedures fall short of effectively addressing this situation.

“For Conservatory Title IX complaints or cases, because it’s so different over here—it’s one-on-one, you have a duet partner, you have a trio, you have a quartet, what have you—there’s probably an extra precaution that should be taken if there is an investigation that is opened up against either a student or a faculty member,” said Lero. “So that way, during an investigation, when a no-contact order is put into place, not only can the suspect not contact you, but they also can’t be in the same room as you. And that’s not how it is [now].”

Dr. Charles Young, associate dean of the Conservatory, who helps to adjust student’s schedules when directed to do so by the Title IX office to accommodate a no-contact order, said that part of the Title IX process is no different in the Conservatory than that of the rest of the university.

“At times it can be challenging, but probably no more challenging than elsewhere on campus,” Young said. “Students across all of BW’s programs engage in small classes, independent study, and undergraduate research in small laboratory settings.”

Van Vorst said she also did not believe that the nature of study in the Conservatory differs greatly from study at the university at large, or that it lends itself to any “unsurmountable” challenges.

“I really don’t see how it’s any different. I think anybody who has an academic concentration in any particular area and has an issue with somebody who’s in that area, I think that’s going to be a challenge no matter what,” Van Vorst said. “I don’t think our challenges are heightened over here simply because we have ensembles and we have private lessons and we have a different, maybe, schedule than the rest of the campus does.”

At the Jan. 17 campus-wide forum, some students who spoke indicated that they felt like the Conservatory operated separately from the rest of the University in regards to Title IX matters, and a faculty member indicated that she believed there was a separate Title IX coordinator for the Conservatory.

Students also said that they felt they had been dissuaded or otherwise impeded from reporting their case by Conservatory administration.

In her case, Lero said she spoke to a Conservatory ad ministrator who gave her “multiple options” for what she could do to address her case but did not himself report her complaint to Harkness, which would be required under mandatory reporting guidelines.

Lero, who ultimately made a report directly to Harkness and requested an investigation and a restriction of contact against her studio teacher, doesn’t fault the motive of the administrator, but believes it was a matter of them being unaware at that time of mandatory reporting policies.

“I don’t think there was any malicious intent,” she said. Still, she contends that when she brought to the Conservatory administrator “five or six” instances where her no-contact order was broken, Harkness was only made aware of one.

Van Vorst said that the claim that a Conservatory administrator did not report a sexual misconduct policy violation or no-contact order violation to the Title IX office is “absolutely untrue,” saying that is it a “misconception that information isn’t getting to CJ [Harkness].”

“Everything is reported up. Everything is reported up, and I think any misconception that we are operating under any different structure or rules or protocol or procedures or anything that is different from anybody else on campus is just simply untrue,” she said.

Van Vorst made it clear that the Conservatory has never suggested that information of this nature must be reported to Conservatory administration.

“There is no need whatsoever for any of those first recipients of information to come through the Conservatory administration office, and, frankly, there never has been,” said Van Vorst.

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, said she reported an issue of harassment involving another Conservatory student to a Conservatory administrator. While the administrator is someone who she said “genuinely does care” about her and her case, she said that since she did not receive any follow-up from the Title IX office, it appears her case had not been reported up.

The student said that she hopes that her situation and other similar situations can help faculty, staff and students learn what their roles are in the reporting process.

“Everybody had good intentions involved, they just didn’t know how to proceed properly,” the student said. “Basically, and I’m hoping that this whole situation can just educate people more on reporting [and] mandatory reporting.”

At the Jan. 17 campus-wide forum, President Bob Helmer and Harkness each emphasized that students should report concerns — past or present — with the Title IX reporting process to Harkness or any of the school’s four other discrimination investigators.

CJ Harkness, Title IX Coordinator, can be reached at 440-826-2426 or [email protected].