Following scrutiny, administrators enforce Title IX changes

Last year the University of Alaska Fairbanks made an agreement with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to overhaul their Title IX office, following a federal investigation by the Department of Education which found the university guilty of mishandling 23 different cases. According to university officials, the office has been working over the summer to institute many of these agreed upon changes, including a new website, policies, and regulations, which are awaiting approval by the Office of Civil Rights.

The Dean of Students office and the Office of Civil Rights have begun working closely with new staff at the Title IX office to update campus regulations regarding sexual assault and harassment. Title IX Coordinator Margo Griffith, who was hired last year said that the entire system had been gutted. The regulations that are in place now are so different that it is almost a whole new way of handling Title IX related issues according to Griffith.

“It was a total revamp,” Griffith said. “It effected student conduct regulations, it effected HR regulations, and pretty much it’s a stand alone policy and reg now. It’s its own chapter.”

The changes are extensive, according to Griffith, complete with new definitions of what falls under Title IX, appeals and due process changes, and what sanctions UAF are able to apply and how they are handled. At the end of June, UAF had a major overhaul of its policies and Griffith said that the Title IX office met with other departments to go over these changes and receive input on the best way forward.

“We also sat down with several other offices, Res Life, Dean of Students office, HR and mapped out our process, because we did just have big changes to our policy and regulation,” Griffith said, “and it does change the way we operate.”

Some of those changes include a new Title IX committee, which met in the beginning of May. This new committee is made up of students and is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 29. The committees purview is to ensure that resources and communication to students are clear. These students will be responsible for communicating to the university on behalf of the student body, and how best to serve the students who find themselves in these types of situations.

While spokesperson for UAF, Marmian Grimes, Griffith, and Dean of Students, Laura McCollough, like and support these new regulations, they still have yet to become official policy.

“I think we do need to make clear that although we did that work and it’s been adopted by the Board of Regents and the president, those policies and regulations have gone up to [the Office of Civil Rights] and we’re still waiting for their feedback on them,” Griffith said. “So it could be that they’re like, yep, you’re great, or they could ask for changes.

Griffith said while the campus office is implementing these preliminary policies, the policies could change down the line depending on OCR feedback. Last year, the Title IX office signed a voluntary resolution agreement, which outlined more clearly, university and employee responsibilities with regard to Title IX cases.

“All responsible employees are expected to promptly report sexual harassment, including sexual violence, that they observe or learned about,” the agreement reads.

Griffith clarified that “all responsible employees” includes student employees, however only those that work in a residence hall. There is also no statue of limitations defined in the agreement, meaning that what happened 10, 15, or 20 years ago, if “learned about”, would still be required to be reported by an employee. Griffith was clear that they want abuses to be reported, and students will have better access to resources and advocates who will keep their information confidential in this new system.

“Their job is, say as an RA, they’re required to report,” Griffith said. “That’s why we’re making it so clear that we have these confidential resources on campus, like the Resource and Advocacy Center and the Health and Counseling Center.”

Both centers have confidential resources available to students in need, and have trained officials who can help students without having to get the university further involved in a situation. Other resources Griffith praised was the new website and its ease of use, which has been overlooked until recently.

“The website, it’s much more robust. There’s a lot more information out there and the website itself is crafted in a way that’s better equipped for individuals, not only going through trauma, but if we have a domestic violence type situation there’s safety features that have been added to the website so that folks can exit quickly,” Griffith said. “It’s really necessary for protection of the individuals looking at the site.”

Grimes said the “quick exit” button is an idea used by many sexual and domestic violence resource websites and allows victims a new level of privacy.

“Those are something that you’ll see on a lot of websites that have resources for people who are dealing with domestic violence,” Grimes said.

With some hurdles still to overcome and the current statements by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, all three campus officials said they are pleased with the direction the university seems to be headed and are adamant about UAF’s continued strong commitment to its students and staff’s safety. Griffith said the new regulations set UAF apart from other college campuses in terms of resources and aide provided to students and staff that may find themselves in a Title IX situation.

Matt Mertes

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