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Davis joins University as Title IX Officer

Former Title IX coordinator of Mount Holyoke appointed after five-month vancancy

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
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Ending a five-month period of interim leadership by internal administrators, Rene Davis began work as the new program officer for the Title IX Office in mid-July. Now leading the University’s oversight of cases involving sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, she brings to her position extensive administrative, legal and trauma-focused experience.

To choose Davis, the University created a search committee comprising faculty members, staff members, administrators, University attorneys, students and members of the Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board. Davis was one among a pool of finalists who were invited to visit campus, wrote Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 in a university-wide email May 18.

Davis comes to Brown from Mount Holyoke College, where she was the Title IX and Section 504 coordinator. Before that, Davis worked for Womanshelter/Compañeras as an administrator, volunteer coordinator and representative on the battered women’s shelter hotline. She then became involved with female advocacy work at Girls Inc. and subsequently moved into administrative roles in higher education.

“Through divine intervention in a number of different roles, I ended up falling into the work around Title IX,” Davis said.

“I was blown away when I first met her,” said Laurel Bestock, the chair of the Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board and associate professor of archaeology and the ancient world and Egyptology and Assyriology. “She has a really rare ability to listen, to disagree and then to explain why she disagrees and bring the people with whom she disagrees along with her.”

While there were a number of qualified candidates, “there was just this other quality about (Davis) that set her apart by miles,” said Kirsten Wolfe, assistant dean of student conduct and community standards and former interim deputy Title IX coordinator for undergraduate students.

Davis began shaping the Title IX policies and procedures at Mount Holyoke following the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter written and released by the Department of Education under the Obama administration. The letter instructed universities to alter their Title IX processes. Those reforms allowed both parties to appeal any decision and established a preponderance of evidence as the standard, meaning that a hearing must find it more likely than not that the accused is at fault to determine guilt.

The preponderance of evidence standard has come under criticism from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who recently gave a speech raising concerns about due process in Title IX proceedings.

“I don’t think that the preponderance of the information standard means that more people are being found responsible than should,” Davis said in response. The due process concerns are more legitimate, she added. At some institutions, the accused sometimes have no access to evidence or no knowledge of the complaint against them, she added.

At Brown, the accused receives a copy of the written complaint, may choose to respond, may choose to attend the hearing and give a statement and may also appeal the result of the hearing on certain grounds.

Davis has spent her first few months studying current University policies such as these, in addition to examining ongoing and past cases.

In her first year, Davis does not intend to make dramatic changes. “I’m too new to the community to go forward and do that,” she said. However, she does intend to “tinker with the procedures” to ensure that she understands the content of all Title IX cases and the potential threat they pose to the individual or University community. Currently, the Title IX program officer is not central to some of those operations, she said.

She also aims to further develop the informal complaint process with student and community input, she added. Students often wonder how they can participate in an informal process — which would not involve an official hearing — while avoiding retaliation.

The primary challenge this year will be building trust, Davis said. “Getting people to see us beyond the complaint procedures will be an important hurdle.”

But interim staff from the department have confidence in Davis.

“Since she got here, she has had a clear vision for what she wants that office to be (and) what kind of support she needs to make that vision happen,” Wolfe said.