19 days ago, Catherine Criswell went from being Stanford’s newly hired Title IX coordinator to the most hated university administrator overnight.
Catherine Criswell was hired as the sole Title IX coordinator at Stanford University in May of 2014. In her role, Ms. Criswell is responsible for ensuring that Title IX, a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, is carried out here at Stanford.
Me speaking as a journalist: Discussions of Title IX investigations have thoroughly saturated the campus dialogue this year. For example, Sigma Alpha Epsilon indefinitely lost their campus housing, and the afamed Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band was put on probation by the university and will, among the adoption of other reforms, be prohibited from performing at away athletic events for one whole year.
Me speaking as a Stanford student: STANFORD DID WHAT?!?!??!? YOU KICKED OUT SAE AND PUT THE BAND ON PROBATION?!?!?!?!?!?!? ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!?! CAN’T WE JUST TALK ABOUT THIS FOR LIKE FIVE SECONDS?????! WHAT DID THEY EVEN DO?????! WHAT IS HAPPENING???!!? WHHHAAAAAAA…
(Obviously, anything I have to say comes directly from my personal perspective and undergraduate experience, but it’s not simply an opinion that the campus climate is heating up.)
Then, on May 28, 2015, an anonymous Stanford publication called the Fountain Hopper released an article that gave distressed students like-a-myself a single person to blame for all that seemed to be going south with anything fun on campus. That person, of course, was Catherine Criswell.
As a brand-new administrator in a brand-new position, sources tell us Criswell is doing all she can to “bring in the big fish.” Criswell was the driving force behind Band’s suspension and SAE’s loss of housing.
Criswell is behind a full-throttle push to get rid of Full Moon On The Quad (FMOTQ), as well as being responsible for the implementation of the oft-maligned Greek Life Standards of Excellence, the latest draft of which threatens Greek organizations with the withdrawal of University recognition if members don’t hit certain GPA averages and attendance targets on mandatory workshops.
Administration tipsters tell us that Criswell initially pushed for the end of housed Greek life, but Boardman and ResEd administrators beat down the proposal. Similarly, Criswell initially pushed for The End Of Band™.
I have learned to take everything the FoHo has to say with a grain of salt. After all, I find it difficult to put all my trust in a publication that cites nearly 100 percent of its sources as “a source.” It only took me a few seconds on Yik Yak, however, to find out that not all of my peers read the article with the same degree of skepticism.
The app blew up with anonymous yaks absolutely tearing Criswell apart, a surprising proportion of which compared Criswell to the infamous, fun-sucking Harry Potter character, Professor Umbridge. (#nerdnation) The FoHo had people out for blood.
After seeing all of this, I couldn’t help but wonder if these Yakkers (?) understood that the FoHo was only telling one side of a very complicated story. I never tried to pretend like I knew just what that story was, but it was clear to me that the article was lacking in balanced perspectives. “What would Criswell say to all this?” I wondered.
My curiosity got the best of me.
I sat down with Ms. Criswell during finals week of spring quarter and got to ask her some of my burning questions. She didn’t let me get an audio recording of our conversation, but did allow me to take notes. For that reason, I have only a limited number of exact quotes, and the rest of the interview has been paraphrased.
So, Ms. Criswell…
1. What were your thoughts on the FoHo article?
2. Title IX policy covers procedures that follow reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking. How does this all relate to LSJUMB and Full Moon on the Quad?
Right off the bat, Criswell explained that Title IX was not the main driving force behind the band investigation. The band was put on probation for hazing, the use of alcohol and the use of controlled substances rather than issues of sexual misconduct, she explained.
In contrast to the FoHo’s report, Criswell stated that Title IX has not made any investigation of FMOTQ. She did, however, explain to me what would be the issue should her office decide to move forward with an investigation. To my surprise, the main issue that Title IX may soon have with FMOTQ surrounds those who attend in the nude, not the kissing that takes place at the event itself. She explained how her office would not want to ban “nudity for nudity’s sake,” but to make sure both the nudists and other students in attendance feel safe.
Just before moving onto the next question, Criswell threw in this little “by-the-way:”
I never recommended to end band or Greek life.”
Oh. Wait, what?
3. The section on “retaliation” in Stanford’s Title IX policy is very short. How do you define “retaliation?” How do you make sure rules against retaliation do not violate students’ right to free speech?
Title IX policy on Retaliation: “It is a violation of Stanford University policy to retaliate against any person making a complaint of Prohibited Conduct or against any person cooperating in the investigation of any such allegation. Retaliation should be reported promptly to a Graduate Life Dean or Residence Dean, the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office (SARA) or the Office of Community Standards. Retaliation is grounds for University disciplinary action.”
I’m a huge proponent of free speech.”
Criswell defined retaliation as criticisms of specific individuals involved in an investigation. The difference between what’s retaliation and what’s not, she explained, is who you’re criticizing. She actually encouraged public criticisms of the university process itself, and described herself as a proponent of free speech.
Criswell also stated that Title IX asks people involved in investigations to not publicly come forward with any information about the process they only could have learned by going through it. “But that’s only a request,” she added.
4. It often seems that going into an investigation, the fate of the accused perpetrator has already been decided. Do Title IX investigations follow “innocent until proven guilty?”
Criswell explained that Title IX investigations employ a 50.1% standard that leans towards finding the alleged perpetrator guilty of their charges. This is called Preponderance of Evidence, she explained.
The definition of this term states: “This preponderance is based on the more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence.” In other words– or rather, in Criswell’s– the Title IX office goes into investigations “keeping in mind what more likely than not took place.”
5. Students want to know what’s going on. There’s so much gray area surrounding SAE’s investigation, for example. Shouldn’t that all be public information? Do you think students have that right to know what’s going on on their campus?
Criswell expressed how the confidentialty clause of Title IX policy makes publicizing any information about investigations difficult. The victims’ safety is a top priority, she explained.
Criswell then referred me to the Department of Public Safety’s annual safety report, although she acknowledges the DPS is not connected to Title IX.
6. According to the recent FoHo article, Provost Etchemendy recently stated in a guest lecture to a Stanford Economics class that this was the “worst year for Stanford” he’d experienced in his 15 years here. What will Title IX be doing differently next year?
First off, the Title IX office will be hiring 2 full-time designated investigators next year.
Criswell also expressed interest in putting more information about investigations online for students to get informed. She stated that her office was considering publishing information online on a quarterly basis. (FTR: I expressed my encouragement of this proposal with a vigorous head nod and fat thumbs up.)
I want to talk more with students,” she said. “I want to stay connected with the students and the campus climate.”
According to Criswell, the Title IX office will be piloting a task force to make recommendations for next year. One of their goals will be to to streamline the Title IX investigation process in an effort to encourage more students to come forward with allegations. “We want more cases reported,” Criswell stated. She explained that the more cases get reported, the stronger the signal that students trust the Title IX process.
We want more cases reported.”
7. My last question for today is: What is your vision of a perfect Stanford?
Criswell’s perfect Stanford is a place where people assume goodwill of Title IX and the administration. It’s a place where students aren’t suspicious that the administration is trying to “cover stuff up.” Criswell desires a Stanford where students trust the Title IX process, even though the administration can’t disclose everything “because of confidentiality and FERPA.”
Criswell added that a perfect Stanford would maintain a culture of respect, where people “look out for each other and treat each other fairly.”
Lastly, Criswell encourages people to voice their dissenting opinions. She believes the FoHo article, this retaliation victim’s Stanford Daily op-ed, and this SAE alumnus’s Stanford Daily op-ed are all “good” because they create campus dialogue surrounding these important issues.
So now, if you care to participate, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following questions. Take a moment to think about these, and then submit your thoughts to ask.fm/cathincollege. I’ll be publishing all your opinions in an upcoming post!
- Do you trust the FoHo?
- Do you think the current regulations against retaliation violate free speech?
- Do you think Preponderance of Evidence has any place in Title IX investigations?
- Do you think people are too critical of the Title IX process?
- Do you trust Criswell as much as she wants you to?
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert F’ing Einstein