Tracy Kennedy Departs Title IX Amid Increased Scrutiny of Office

Caroline Ahearn ’20

Chief News Editor

On the morning Thursday April 25, Holy Cross faculty and staff were notified via email that Tracy Kennedy, Director of Title IX Initiatives, will be leaving the College at the end of this academic year. Kennedy took on the Director role in September 2018, after serving as Interim Director since June 2017 and as Title IX and Non-Discrimination Investigator since September 2016. Students, alumni, and other members of the Holy Cross community who were not included on the initial email from Dorothy Hauver, the College’s Vice President for Administration and Finances, were first notified of the news via social media and word of mouth when Sean Redrow ‘98, one of the former Organ Scholars who informed the College of the alleged sexual misconduct by organist James David Christie, posted a transcript of Hauver’s email in “Standing Up By Sitting In: Continued” a Facebook group created by the organizers of February’s historic sit-in outside of Father Boroughs’ office. Students were forwarded the original email just over 32 hours later.

According to a spokesperson for the College, the email announcing Kennedy’s departure contains the most up-to-date information on the College’s plan surrounding the Office of Title IX Initiatives. It references the administration’s own evaluation of Sexual Misconduct Policy, recommendations from the Sexual Respect and Planning Group, and the United States Department of Education’s pending Title IX regulations as factors that will influence the future structure and role of the Office and the position of the Director. It has been assured that cases in the Office of Title IX will not be compromised due to the change in personnel, and that following Tracy’s departure Assistant Director of Title IX Initiatives and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Cheryl Rogers will be picking up open matters.

“It is my hope that I have made some small positive difference in the life of the community I have served for the last three years,” Kennedy told The Spire. “I also hope that my work has led us to a greater understanding of the essential role of community engagement and collaboration in the prevention of sexual misconduct and the breakdown of harmful social norms.”

The announcement comes after a year of increased focus and scrutiny of the Office of Title IX Initiatives following the sexual misconduct allegations against James David Christie, former Distinguished-Artist-in-Residence, and Christopher Dustin, Professor of Philosophy and former Dean of Faculty, as well as the administrative response from Holy Cross. About a month after it was announced that Kennedy would assume the role of Title IX Director, the student who filed a Title IX complaint against Dustin was offered an informal resolution while the investigation continued. As the investigation occurred, in August 2018 the allegations against Christie were made public via a letter to Father Boroughs detailing a decades-long history of alleged sexual abuse of students. Later in the fall semester Dustin was found responsible after a 20-month long investigation at the same time that he was teaching a first-year Montserrat course. On September 24, Provost Freije announced Dustin’s removal from the position of Dean of Faculty without explanation.

On November 5, 2018, the anonymous, student-run Instagram account @sexualassaultonthehill was launched to detail stories of sexual abuse and assault at Holy Cross. On November 14, senior counsel at Holland & Knight Phil Catanzano released an initial report on campus climate during his cultural review, citing “concerns about lack of institutional oversight or even departmental oversight of certain College employees” as well as a “variety of concerns” about the Title IX office and process. Two days later, over one thousand community members attended the ENGAGE summit, which @sexualassaultonthehill criticized as being a “catch-all response” in the face of multiple issues of sexual and bigoted violence. A month later at the end of the semester, Boroughs wrote to the campus community pledging reform to Title IX policies and processes.

At the start of the Spring semester, the College place Dustin on leave as a result of allegations from a previous year, distinct from the allegations made in Worcester Magazine.  On February 4, hundreds of Holy Cross students launch an indefinite sit-in entitled “Standing Up by Sitting In” in which they demand Dustin’s removal, an acknowledgement of the College’s failure to inform the campus of the allegations against him, an external audit of Title IX, a preliminary report from Catanzano, and a pledge to release that report publicly. The sit-in ends on February 6, after the College agreed to meet or work with students on their demands. Since the sit in, Boroughs and the College administration have taken efforts to address the campus climate while student organizers continue to demand transparency. At the April 3 Faculty Assembly, Boroughs told faculty to bring concerns of wrongdoing to the Board, to whom he reports, to which the assembly responded by voting to request an independent investigator. On April 5, the ad hoc Committee on Faculty Sexual Misconduct released a statement to The Spire following Boroughs’ decision to forgo an independent investigator, despite their assertion that “an independent investigation is the best way … for trust to be restored within the community.”

It is amidst this culture of increasing demands for accountability and transparency on Title IX policies and processes that Tracy Kennedy’s exit from Holy Cross was announced.

“This [announcement] does not affect the committee’s call for an independent investigation, which remains in place” said political science Professor Vickie Langohr, chair of the ad hoc committee. “We met with two members of the audit committee of the Board of Trustees last week to communicate the reasons for this call, and we have been informed that the Board discussed it at their meeting on campus in the last weekend. We will communicate their decision as soon as we have it.”

In addition, response from the student body has been mixed and riddled with confusion, especially given that many first found out about the personnel change via social media. Leaders from the Student Government Association of both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years stressed that given the shakeup, students should not feel abandoned by Title IX, nor should they give up the culture of #DemandMore.

“I recognize both the work that Tracy has put in during her time at Holy Cross and especially after immersing ourselves in Title IX policy this year and seeking to understand many of the nuances, the way we interpret Title IX is not purely up to the discretion of one individual but the policy and general structure as well,” said former SGA Co-President Meredith Coolidge ‘19. “Therefore, I see Tracy’s departure as an opportunity for the College to look at how its Office of Title IX Initiatives is operating and how it might be improved and expanded going forward.”

Looking into the future of Title IX on campus, newly elected SGA Co-President Caroline Babinski ‘20 told The Spire: “We would like to emphasize to students that no outstanding cases will be compromised due to this change of personnel in the Office of Title IX. SGA will strive to keep students aware about all changes within the Office, and we will educate students on the Office’s policies and procedures. We believe it is important for all students to understand their rights under Title IX and to understand Holy Cross’s specific procedures in handling reports and investigations. We will work with the Holy Cross administration to do anything we can to provide this type of education and transparency to students.”

The efforts of “Standing Up by Sitting In: Continued” will also work to improve the Title IX office and sexual respect culture on campus after Kennedy’s departure. “In my personal opinion, the problems that arise from the Title IX office are less of a result of the individuals who work in the Title IX office, and more so the overarching structures in place that limit their effectiveness and efficiency,” said Jules Cashman ‘22, one of the student organizers of the sit-in and the continued effort.

“I am grateful for Tracy Kennedy’s continued time and professionalism in working with me on my case over the past year,” said Jake Street ‘10, a former Organ Scholar who has been vocal about the need for reform at Holy Cross. “The Title IX office must be expanded and empowered, made more independent of the administration, and redesigned to focus on advocacy for survivors. I understand that Phil Catanzano’s review is expected to conclude by the end of the month. It would be absurd, but not surprising, if he were to finish his work without ever speaking to the organ scholars who triggered his hiring, as we continue to be involved in ongoing investigations. I hope the administration will work to listen to all those who are seeking reform.”

As she prepares to conclude her time on the Hill, Kennedy told The Spire: “I believe the work we have done as a community in my time here has improved the office’s ability to do the challenging work it is called to perform every day. I know that work will continue after I leave. I am moving to the next stage of my career, with peace and clarity, and a profound gratitude for the wisdom that my time at the College has brought to my life.”

There has been no word yet on who will replace Kennedy as Director of Title IX Initiatives or on when and how that decision will be made.

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