Title IX office announces improvements following federal reprimand

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Photo credit: Molly Putman

New hires and new policies at the campus Title IX office have been made this past semester, including a new office coordinator and additional support for students who report cases. Administrators say these steps will improve the the office’s relationship with students and its investigative effectiveness.

Title IX is a federal law which mandates individuals may not be discriminated against on the basis of sex or gender. The UAF Title IX office handles any report of misconduct on this basis.

New Positions

The office’s new coordinator, Margo Griffith, said that among other changes, a new student committee has been formed with the intent of furthering communication between the Title IX office and student body. The student Title IX committee had its initial meeting May 1.

“A couple members of the student committee will be on the Title IX advisory committee,” Griffith said. “So there will be not only a student forum and the ability to give feedback but they’ll also be able to interface with others on the advisory committee.”

The office has also hired a new position to aid students who report cases, both through providing support resources and by keeping them informed as to the status of their complaint.

“With this position that individual will be following up regularly with folks that are involved in the cases,” Griffith said. “And that will be help with some of the transparency with students.”

Transparency

A central request shared by Fairbanks community members and campus students during many past Title IX forums was the need for increased transparency and communication from administration regarding Title IX issues on campus and how they are being handled.

“Here’s kind of two levels of transparency,” University Relations spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. “There’s transparency broadly for the public and then transparency with the person involved in the case so they can actually know what’s going on.”

“I think aggregate information is certainly one way we can let people know the volume of cases that are coming in and what happens with cases,” Grimes said. “Some of them are founded and move forward to disciplinary measures, some of them unfounded, some of them are not pursued through investigation because of x, y z. And so you can at least see for a time period, ok this is what happens with cases.”

Climate surveys, which will seek to gauge campus satisfaction with Title IX enforcement, were mandated in the agreement made with the federal Office of Civil Rights earlier this year, according to Grimes. Administrators say one has not been released to the public yet, but is in the works.

Reporting Fluctuations

Sexual assault reporting on campus is on the rise, though overall Title IX cases remain steady, according to investigator Kevin Calderara.

“A trend that we’re noticing is that the actual complaints coming into the office are relatively the same,” Calderara said. “The big fluctuation is the numbers in reporting of sexual assaults of last year to the reporting of sexual assaults this year. So there is an increase there.”

Title IX reporting for assaults and contacts is substantially higher at UAF than at UAS and UAA, despite the higher population of the Anchorage campus. Calderara is unclear about the specific causes but feels that increased knowledge of Title IX policy has contributed higher reporting numbers.

“I think it’s just the word’s out that you can report and I think more people have knowledge of the process,” Calderara said. “That’s what I would like to think.”

Statistics provided by University Relations show some disparity between the number of Title IX cases reported throughout the UA system, and how many of those cases receive a full investigation. This can happen for a variety of reasons, Calderara said. Cases may lack sufficient evidence for investigation or charges may not be pressed. When a third party reports a case, victims may not wish to continue with the investigation.

The office has seen increased numbers of cases reported by a third party, according to Griffith. In these instances, if a third party reports a case, the Title IX investigator opens a case file and reaches out to those directly involved. If they decline investigation, interim measures and counseling are still offered, Calderara said.

There are certain instances where the Title IX office is required to follow through with an investigation regardless of whether or not those involved requested the investigation. These are if the case involves a minor, if it involves force or the use of a weapon, if it involves a group or if there is a pattern, according to Calderara.

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