How does sexual misconduct fit into Title IX?

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Source: New York Times

Samuel Northrup, Editor in Chief

Since the Oct. 5 New York Times report detailing decades of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, formerly of the Weinstein Company, more than 50 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have come forward with accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against the film producer.

Nearly two months later, accusations against Weinstein have inspired growing numbers of alleged sexual assault victims to come forward, bringing accusations against more than two dozen other notable public figures, including comedian Louis C.K. and actor Kevin Spacey.

These incidents have launched national discussions on sexual assault and misconduct, however, these issues are directly relevant to Utica College. According to the Campus Safety Information and Statistics Report 2017, a total of six forcible sex offenses occurred from 2014-2016, two cases of stalking from 2014-2015 and four incidents of dating violence and two of domestic violence in 2016.

While the aforementioned are four different types of offenses, all fall under violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibiting any kind of “sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions,” according to Utica College’s official website. Conduct violating Title IX includes sexual and gender based misconduct–dating violence, domestic violence and stalking fall under this category–sexual assault and misconduct, failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics and sex-based discrimination in services, academic programs and employment.

 

Title IX Coordinator Lisa Green, also the vice president for human resources and personnel development, is at the forefront of handling these issues at UC.

As coordinator, Green, as well as deputy coordinators David Fontaine and Alane Varga, are tasked with ensuring “policies, processes, procedures, education, preventive measures and training” are put in place to create a safe environment on campus.

“For me, it boils down to safety,” said Green, speaking on her role as Title IX coordinator. “Our students live, learn and work here. If you can’t feel safe in a place you live, learn, work, that’s awful. For us, our obligation is to make sure we’re doing everything we can not only to comply [with Title IX requirements] but to create that safe environment.”

In cases of sexual misconduct, as well as other Title IX cases, Green explained that preponderance of evidence is used in the investigation process, meaning that it is “more likely than not” the alleged incident occurred based on facts as well as credibility and behavior of those involved.

“That standard is really important to us because that encourages people that they can report, that they don’t have to have mountains and mountains of facts [to make a report],” Green said.

Preponderance of evidence is the standard of proof in Title IX investigations for colleges across the country, not just Utica College, and is meant to alleviate concerns in the reporting process, something that is “probably the most difficult thing a student would have to do,” Green said.

If students are seeking to report an incident of sexual assault or misconduct, or any other Title IX violation, they can go to Campus Safety or speak directly to Green, Fontaine or Varga. As the Title IX coordinator, no matter where or with whom reports are made, the case comes Green’s way.

Once a report is made, Green works with campus security to make sure any certain interim restrictions, such as no-contact orders, need to be put in place to create “space and safety.” In any situation, she explained, safety, well-being and providing access to any necessary medical care are the top priority.

From there, an investigatory process, lead by two specially-trained campus officials, is commenced to examine facts, with a final report being brought to Green for a decision to be made based on the preponderance of evidence and standard policies on campus. Depending on the decision, the issue could be sent to the Office of Student Conduct if further action is required.

Green assures any student reporting their situation to her team will always maintain control over the ensuing process or actions taken. She noted the amnesty policy that is in place that allows students looking to report to stay out of trouble if illegal drugs or alcohol were factors in their situation.

According to Fontaine, the application of Title IX is the same for any student on campus, whether or not they are student-athletes.

While Fontaine is also director of athletics and physical education at UC, he added that his role as deputy Title IX coordinator is not limited to athletics and that he is available for “athletes and non-athletes to be a resource for them to accumulate information and start a process in which whatever they are sharing with me can be investigated.”

“I’m hoping people are just good individuals and understand that we need to treat everybody with respect whether it be somebody of a different sex or sexual orientation, a different religious background, a transgender student, somebody with different political views,” said Fontaine, speaking on Title IX’s resonance with student-athletes. “I hope that respect is a word that covers a lot of that. I think that athletes hear more of that because we make it a point to make sure they’re getting the message.”

Green is confident in the procedures that are in place for handling any issues of sexual misconduct or assault on campus but pointed to a lack of reporting of incidents as a concern, something she said is a national issue due to the social barriers or pressures victims feel.

“People assume that when you look at a campus safety report and if it says zero violent assaults of any kind, they assume that the college is singing and dancing over that or there’s something nefarious going on,” she said. “As a Title IX coordinator, that doesn’t make me feel happy at all, it makes me wonder who’s not reporting. The numbers [themselves are not important] to me, I’m dealing with people.”

A way to change this is getting more students involved in the process to better reach out to peers struggling to report any Title IX issues on campus. While Green said this is still a work in progress, she pointed to senior Emily Rembetski as a positive example of a student voice getting involved.

Rembetski wants to help fellow students and increase the number of reporting of sexual misconduct on campus, as well as other Title IX violations. She feels the numbers we see now are not as representative as they seem due to a lack of reporting.

“I know, just from stories that I’ve heard and from meetings with other students, there’s an issue with people coming forward because they’re embarrassed, scared, think they’re going to get in trouble, think they’re not going to be believed, they are afraid the person is going to come back and hurt them,” Rembetski said. “There’s a whole bunch of different reasons, and my goal is to put all of those fears at ease and increase reporting.”

To help spread the importance of reporting and increase awareness on sexual misconduct and dating violence to peers, Rembetski has created an upcoming event on Nov. 27, Pledge Against Sexual Harassment and Domestic Violence, from 6-8 p.m. in Strebel Lounge. The event is open to all members of campus and will feature two speakers, including Senior Investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations Dennis Dougherty, addressing domestic violence, sexual assault and Title IX.

Rembetski said every leader from every organization on campus, including Greek organizations, clubs and athletics, faculty and staff, will be present, and the event will culminate with those in attendance signing a pledge against sexual harassment and dating violence.

For more information on Pledge Against Sexual Harassment and Domestic Violence, contact Emily Rembetski at emrembet@utica.edu.

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