On June 5, Title IX Investigator and Assistant Director of Residential Life Kelly Grab took over as the College’s Acting Title IX Coordinator. She will manage the position through her new office as Assistant Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) as the College continues its national search for a permanent replacement.
As the College’s Title IX officer, Grab will oversee all Title IX-related activities on campus and manage all issues of adjudication relating to discrimination or harassment. As the EOAA Office’s website describes the position, “Vassar College has designated a Title IX Coordinator to coordinate the college’s efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, including the investigation of allegations of discrimination or harassment based on sex as well as such allegations of discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity and expression.”
Grab inherited the Title IX officer position in Metcalf House from former Director of the EOAA Office and Title IX Coordinator Julian Williams, who left Vassar on June 5 to accept a position as Vice President for Compliance, Diversity and Ethics at George Mason University. According to Grab, she had accepted the Assistant Directorship of the EOAA Office in January with an anticipated start date in July, though Williams’ announcement of his departure on April 15 prompted an earlier move than expected.
Williams’ resignation forced the College to temporarily reallocate the position’s responsibilities to remaining administrators. During the ongoing search for a replacement EOAA Director, Grab will serve as Acting Title IX Coordinator and Faculty Director of Affirmative Action Colleen Cohen will cover EOAA functions.
Although the summer tends to be more relaxed than the school year, Grab wanted to waste no time in her new administrative role. With the early July passage of the “Enough Is Enough” legislation in New York State, which seeks to address the endemic issue of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses, Grab has led efforts to ensure that Vassar meets those state and federal standards in such a way that would meet both legal requirements as well as the needs of the community. Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, with whom Grab has worked closely on such efforts, wrote in an emailed statement, “We welcome the state and national attention to these important issues and continue to be committed to being at the forefront of sexual assault and violence prevention and also adjudication of these matters.”
Grab has also spent the summer months working with Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Coordinator Charlotte Strauss Swanson on various other projects for the coming year, such as training of some campus offices, organizing workshops for house teams and student fellows and creating other educational offerings that will be available throughout the year.
According to Grab, one of her personal goals for the summer was to analyze the data from April’s “What Happens Here” online survey, which sought to ask students directly, though anonymously, about their experiences encountering sexual violence and discrimination on campus, and to find ways to present the results to the community.
Grab is also tasked with trying to improve a tenuous relationship between students and the Administration, one particularly strained with regards to the handling of safety and diversity issues on campus. Vassar Student Association (VSA) VP for Student Life Christopher Brown ’16 remarked, “There tends to be mistrust among students regarding these offices as well as the Administration at large, which does not bode well for the Title IX process. It is important for these offices to maintain transparency and constantly be showing their dedication to the eradication of sexual violence on this campus, not just in words but also in actions.”
Strauss Swanson, however, remained confident in Grab’s ability to succeed in her interim role in spite of such concerns. “Kelly has a great deal of investigative experience working with students involved in Title IX cases on campus,” she commented. “She also connects very well to our students and from what I’ve seen has really helped victims to feel safe and listened to during investigative meetings.”
Roellke echoed the sentiment. “Kelly has considerable experience as a Title IX investigator and is well versed on all components of Title IX,” he said. “Upon his departure, Julian Williams recommended that Kelly take on the acting title IX coordinator role—a recommendation that was widely supported by the senior officers. She brings a calm, objective and expert perspective on these issues.”
Grab herself, however, expressed her wish to directly tackle the issue of rekindling students’ trust. She wrote, “I think the first step to building trust is to recognize and acknowledge that there is mistrust and skepticism. I hope folks see that the survey we deployed in April was an effort to better understand the needs and experiences of our campus…It is my hope that data will be available on our website and that we will engage the campus in opportunities to discuss in small forums.”
“One, perhaps general, goal that I have is to for the EOAA office to be more visible through proactive, educational opportunities,” Grab went on to say. “I personally hope to support the already wonderful programming put on by other offices such as the ALANA Center, LGBTQ and Women’s Centers, and the Sexual Assault & Violence Prevention Program. I also hope that once we bring on a new director our office will have the time and resources to do some of our own programming and outreach to all members of the campus community.”
In the meantime, Roellke chairs the search committee for a new Director of the EOAA and a more permanent Title IX officer. According to Roellke, the committee has over 50 applicants for the position, which they hope to narrow to 10 semi-finalists by the end of August. In early- to mid-September, once the school year has begun, the College will invite three or four finalists to campus in hopes of garnering student input in the final selection process.
Until the final decision is made, Grab remains confident and excited for the coming year’s opportunities. “It has been a lot of work,” she remarked, “but that has also been what has been most rewarding. I’m excited to collaborate with colleagues who really care and see the importance of preventing sexual violence and responding to and supporting instances in which it occurs.”