Story by Andrew Griffin
Do you know your title IX rights?
In today’s America, sexual assault, harassment and discrimination are issues that greatly affect our society. Because of this, it is important for students to be aware of their rights in these situations and how they can possibly be prevented from happening in the first place. Chief Human Resources officer Melissa Richardson and Student Life and Leadership director John Ginsburg shared their thoughts and advice towards students concerning their title IX rights.
Andrew Griffin: What responsibilities do you have as Title IX coordinators?
Melissa Richardson: One of the responsibilities is really to ensure that there’s a process for students and employees to report potential Title IX violations. We do that several different ways We have reference, we have flyers that that we give out, we have documentation, we have a phone number. Folks can reach out to HR, folks can reach out to John and ASG (Associated Student Government), folks can reach out to Mary Vest who is our advocate with multiple lines. Once the complaint is received, we have some mutual responsibility to figure out how it should be investigated, who is involved, and whether or not it really is the title IX situation because there is pending legislation that will narrow the definition of Title IX. The investigatory process is fairly specific in that it results in an outcome to make sure that the results are communicated to the person who has been in the complaint and also to the responder.
John Ginsburg: We’re obligated to conduct prevention efforts. If there’s something to which we would respond to make sure that we’re doing so properly according to both our own policies as well as the federal law.
Griffin: What do you do to help spread awareness to students about their Title IX rights?
Ginsburg: There’s an annual email that goes out to all the students that refers them to the documentation we have regarding our policies, our procedures and resources that are available to support the students. We have activities during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and during Sexual Assault awareness month where we have lots of information we can hand out to students.
Richardson: You’ll see people with T-shirts and a table out in the quad handing out information. It’s usually staffed by students but also often Mary will be out there giving out information and trying to make sure there’s posters up for employees. On the employee side, when folks are hired we require them to do an online training. We do an annual update to that training to make sure that they know that Title IX exists and what their obligations are.
Griffin: Do you think students on campus are well informed about their rights?
Ginsburg: I think reaching out to students is always challenging. The one way that we can get to all students is through email. When we have programs that are more engaging where we can more of a conversation, not everybody is there so we’re always looking for outreach. Keeping the instructors and other staff members informed through efforts that we do is critical because that’s who students have the biggest point of contact with. No matter how much outreach we’ve done there’s always more that we can do. I wish we could clone ourselves so that we could reach out to even more students.
Griffin: I understand that there was recently a sexual assault on campus. Concerning that, what advice do you have for victims or friends and family of victims of assault for finding help?
Ginsburg: One thing that’s important to know is that people who are victims of sexual assault do have options and time to think about which option they want to take. Getting to Mary Vest is great because she works here but she also works for community services so she has access to a lot of resources if there’s a need for counseling or contacting the police. If a student wants to pursue it through a police report they can play through us, they have that option as well. The one important thing to know about Mary is that she’s completely confidential. Whatever you or anyone shares with Mary she does not share with anyone else, including us. In that way it’s a forum where a student can feel safe in having an open conversation without feeling like it’s necessarily going to go anywhere unless they want it to.
Richardson: Students are moving in a lot of different directions and any ideas that people may have for improving our communication methods are welcome and are well received.
Griffin: What personal steps can students take to prevent harassment or assault from happening to them?
Ginsburg: Part of what Mary and I do in our outreach and education with students is having conversations about healthy relationships so if they’re in a relationship with somebody being able to be clear about what consent means. That’s one pathway to avoid sexual assault. When it comes to sexual harassment, being clear about behavior that’s inappropriate, having conversations with people making inappropriate statements, talking to us and talking to a counselor. Be aware of one’s surroundings, be careful when it comes to consumption of alcohol or other substances to not put yourself at risk.
Richardson: Sexual assault is one thing that could happen but there’s also stalking and social media behaviors that can occur. What I would say is that if a student is feeling threatened to seek help early because we don’t want to see things escalate. Something that is making you feel uncomfortable or awkward is worth of conversation and worth reaching out to Mary or using these other avenues to have a conversation.