Title IX: Report confirms 2011-2015 failures
This article has been edited for clarity from its original and printed form.
A federal investigation of the university started three years ago concluded last week. The results show that UAF failed to respond adequately to student reports of sexual assault and violence. Between 2011 and 2014 the university failed to enact suspensions or discipline for any student found likely to have committed an assault. Between 2013 and 2015, such cases took an average of 138 days to resolve, well over twice the target set by the law.
As a result of the findings, 23 previously closed Title IX cases on campus will be re-opened for further investigation.
The report was released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights last Tuesday. The office’s findings say the entire UA system was in violation of Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination at colleges and universities that receive federal funding.
“That’s kind of crazy, it seems like they should be doing more to ensure that everybody is safe,” Megan Geary, a student studying secondary education and English, said about the lack of discipline. “Just knowing that they haven’t suspended anybody, I feel like that discourages people from talking about it too because if nothing is going to happen if you tell somebody then what’s that point of telling somebody.”
Other students offered similar responses.
“It’s definitely a big issue and we need a more open environment,” said Danica Weaver, a linguistics student. “Authority needs to take cases more seriously.”
UA’s Title IX violations include failure to conduct or complete investigations, failure to provide prompt resolutions, failure to prevent retaliation to the victim, failure to provide adequate investigations, failure to provide relief to the alleged victim during the investigations and failure to assess a hostile environment.
The letter also references actions the UA system took to improve Title IX compliance after the start of the review, including the creation of a Title IX task force and structural and administrative changes made to address Title IX issues.
As a result of the findings, UA President Johnsen signed an agreement with the Office detailing federal requirements for the university to address its shortcomings, including the re-examination of previously closed cases. Among other requirements, the agreement mandates reassessment of 23 previously closed sexual assault files of incidents occurring from 2011 to 2013.
In its letter, the Office for Civil Rights references examples from 19 different sexual assault cases. In a 2014 example, a director of a UA satellite college was alleged to have sexually harassed multiple UA students and employees. The case was never completed after the director resigned and no relief was provided to the victims.
In another example, a student teacher was accused of sexually harassing middle school students. UA faculty discussed the incident among themselves, but didn’t report the student. Eventually the student was arrested for sexually harassing high school students, but the Title IX office didn’t investigate because allegedly no victims were UA students.
The letter cites many cases where alleged victims were offered no relief during the investigation and in most of the re-opened cases the university is instructed to “assess what effects, if any, the complainant suffered as a consequence of the [UA] System’s apparent failure to offer interim relief.”
The letter also references multiple cases where the student reporting assault or harassment was sanctioned for alcohol use instead of receiving support.
Former reporting procedures gave rights to the student accused of sexual misconduct that were not given to the student filing the report. Although UA revised those procedures during the investigation, investigators found the revised reporting system inconsistent and unclear, due to multiple intersecting systems among different UA organizations that caused confusion among Title IX staff.
The federal investigators believed the process for filing sexual assault complaints are not easily understood and cites other, minor Title IX infractions due to lack of informational documentation provided by UA.
According to Johnsen and the Office for Civil Rights, the investigation involved review of over 20,000 documents and information posted on university websites, interviews with 59 staff members and 17 on-site focus group sessions with students. Investigators determined the severity of sexual harassment cases based on the type, frequency and severity of harassment, age and relationship of the people involved, the setting the harassment occurred in and “other relevant factors.”
In 2014 the UA system was among 67 schools the Department of Education announced were under review. The federal agency did not provide any specific reason why UA was selected, but then-UA spokesperson Kate Wattum reported to the Daily News Miner she suspected the review was due to Alaska’s high rates of sexual assault.
As a result of the findings, Johnsen has signed an agreement detailing measures to improve UA’s handling of sexual harassment and discrimination at the University. The agreement outlines required responsibilities and training for Title IX coordinators, including (but not limited to) how to address the risk an accused rapist may pose to students, what actions constitute sexual assault, the role drugs and alcohol play in consent and how to identify and eliminate hostile environments.
The agreement includes (but is not limited to) the following requirements for the UA system:
- Re-assess 23 previously closed cases from 2011 – 2015.
- Review all sexual harassment reports from 2014 – 2016 and determine if each case was evaluated fairly and provide remedies when necessary.
- Provide information sessions about how to identify and report sexual discrimination and assault during residence life orientation.
- Ensure requirements for Title IX staff training and responsibilities are met.
- Establish student committees to recommend ways to help students understand Title IX and student rights.
- Revise reporting procedures for sex discrimination (including sexual assault and rape) in a way that’s simple, easy to understand and readily accessible on University publications such as course catalogs and employee handbooks.
- Ensure Residence Life staff report and refer complaints involving sex discrimination to the Title IX office within 24 hours.
- Continue to coordinate with local law enforcement agencies
- Provide complete investigation files and information about sexual harassment complaints to the Office for Civil Rights for the next three years.
- Ensure the availability of informational materials about reporting sexual harassment, counseling services, academic assistance, Title IX contacts and interim measures.
- Provide notice of nondiscrimination and Title IX informational materials to students participating in off-campus UA activities (such as internships).
- Revise and publish a single notice of nondiscrimination.
- Conduct annual climate checks for students to assess the effectiveness of these measures.
For the full documents go to www.alaska.edu/titleIXcompliance. For questions about the results, students can contact the investigators listed in the letter.