Last April, the Herald published six articles about Title IX and sexual assault on campus. The series investigated how reports of sexual assault are handled on campus in addition to the campus culture around the issue.
The Herald found that there seemed to be less openness to discussion about sexual assault on campus than there was in 2014. In part, the articles published last semester hoped to begin to change that. The Herald is still committed to making sure that the conversation about campus culture that started in 2014 does not stop, and through updates like these we hope to change campus culture as a community.
The new semester brings with it some important staffing changes for the Title IX Office. Following the resignation of Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tremayne Robertson, Katie Stiffler, former Education and Prevention Coordinator, has taken over his position. The office has also welcomed a Title IX Fellow, Regina Gesicki, as a third staff member.
Robertson left the Colleges in late July, leaving the Title IX Office with one less staff member and only a few weeks to find a replacement before Orientation. A national search was ruled out, says Title IX Coordinator Susan Lee, because the office did not feel there was enough time to run one. The consensus was that there would also not be enough input from the community, with most students and faculty members off campus for the summer.
An effort to find a member of the community able to serve in the position did not pan out. Regina Gesicki was then identified as someone who “has significant Title IX background and was able to start work immediately,” according to Lee.
Gesicki comes to the Colleges from the University of Notre Dame, where she worked in bystander prevention and as an advisor for students going through the Title IX process. She is still getting to know the campus but is excited and “looking forward to the year.” Gesicki will work alongside Lee and Stiffler to run the office and help with training and programming. Lee says that she has been “fully participating from day one.” As of right now, her position is only for the year.
In the meantime, Stiffler has taken over the role of Deputy Title IX Coordinator. She has not lost any of her duties working in education and prevention but has gained responsibility in the office. “It’s a promotion, not a removal of duties from her position,” says Lee.
Despite these changes, Lee says that not much has changed in the day-to-day operation of the Title IX Office. Last year, she and Stiffler worked with Robertson collaboratively on education and prevention. The dynamic is the same this semester. “All are cross-trained to help out in other areas so that they can best meet the needs for the students in the community—we’re a team that works on what needs to be done that day,” Lee explains.
But according to Professor Chris Woodworth, a member of the Title IX Coordinating Committee, this collaboration raises some concerns about the way the office is being run.
When the committee worked with the Colleges to set guidelines for the Title IX Office in 2015, many members fought hard for a separate education and prevention position. Woodworth and others felt as though there should be someone devoted solely to education on campus, because hearings could easily take priority over the education job. They were also interested in mitigating the possible conflict of interest that might arise if the staff member in charge of trainings were also involved in hearings.
Their concerns were appeased when the Colleges hired three full-time Title IX staff members, with one working only on education and prevention, but the staffing changes this semester reopen the issue. Since Gesicki’s position is just meant to get the office through the year, they are making plans for more permanent staffing starting next year. It is not yet clear whether the office will return to its prior organization.
Again, Woodworth plans to advocate for separate positions. “It’s a conflict of interest when the Prevention and Education Coordinator is privy to information about cases and individual students,” she says. The office needs “someone solely dedicated to prevention education who is not involved in intake and facilitating cases.”
It is not clear, however, how much the committee can do. For Woodworth, “The Title IX Coordinating Committee feels like a group of people who are just receiving updates.” The committee was not informed about Robertson’s resignation this summer, nor were they informed about the office’s plans to fill his position until after they had already gone through.
Woodworth is hopeful that the new student members of the committee can help transform it. Their input may have an impact on how the staffing concerns are resolved, which will in turn have a significant effect on how the Title IX Office
Elsewhere on campus, some students are already working with Title IX to change campus culture. The Student Task Force for Education and Prevention (STEP) and One Love, the HWS chapter of a national organization dedicated to preventing relationship violence, are both now officially recognized student organizations.
Like Woodworth, Lee is optimistic about the potential of student involvement. “Students learn best from other students,” she says. “The more student involvement, the more rapidly we’re moving into culture change.”
The Title IX Office is also working toward culture change through training, which has undergone some changes this semester.
While some first-year students did not receive their bystander intervention training until late October last year, 90 percent of first-year students had received the training by the end of the first week of classes this year. Additionally, Title IX added all sorority and fraternity members to the student leader group that receives specialized training on top of the trainings assigned to all students.
Stiffler says the goal is to “tailor prevention education programming to various class years,” which will “benefit campus by not doing the same training over and over but getting an in-depth refresher about consent.”
Any student who is uncomfortable with the material presented in the trainings can reach out to Title IX to find an alternative, says Stiffler. “The last thing we want anyone to feel is that they have to attend a training they don’t feel comfortable with.”
With overlap, the Title IX Office has already reached 2,518 students through online and in-person trainings this year. According to Lee and Stiffler, the student response overall has been positive. They can see a clear increase in students’ understanding of Title IX policies and bystander intervention strategies.
Title IX is always open to student feedback, and the staff is willing to change programming according to student opinion. The office is actively looking to collaborate with student organizations to develop programming that students want to see on campus.
This confirms what the Herald concluded last April—if campus culture is to be truly transformed, it will need to be the result of collective action by the entire community.