Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases, in violation of Title IX. The schools on the list ranged from Ivy League institutions to state universities to small liberal arts colleges.
Drexel was not on the list, but administrators aren’t taking anything for granted. Drexel is working to prevent and appropriately resolve sexual assault cases with the help of faculty, professional staff and students.
How does Drexel ensure it follows the law and responds effectively and fairly to reported sexual assault? How can faculty and professional staff help? DrexelNow talked with Michele Rovinsky-Mayer, Drexel’s associate vice president for equality and diversity and Title IX Coordinator, to find out.
Title IX is widely known for its relationship to athletics, but what does it have to do with sexual assault?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding, and Drexel receives federal funds through financial aid, making it subject to the law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of gender discrimination.
Why has sexual assault at colleges and universities been such a major topic of discussion lately?
It’s a national problem. One in five women is sexually assaulted during college, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Most college students who are victims of sexual assault are freshmen or sophomores, most know their attacker and many are victims of incapacitation assault — assault while they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
President Obama is concerned about the issue, and he created a task force to address it. The release of the 55 institutions under investigation puts the focus on accountability. But those aren’t the only institutions where sexual assault is happening.
Why are those institutions under investigation?
Most of the investigations result when people are unhappy with the process of responding to a sexual assault allegation. But at some universities and colleges that have received additional public attention, victims of sexual assault felt that they were discouraged from reporting their assaults and that there was an uncoordinated, siloed response.
What is Drexel doing to make its campuses as safe as they can be and respond effectively to reported sexual assault?
We have a new comprehensive sexual harassment and misconduct policy, approved in September 2013. It supplements our equality and nondiscrimination policy, and it goes into great depth about what our response will be to reported sexual assault. It covers any Drexel community member, not just students. And it covers not just sexual assault, but sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence and same-sex relationships.
In 2012, I became Drexel’s Title IX coordinator, and I’ve assembled a team of seven Title IX deputies from across the University, listed on our Title IX resource webpage. My responsibilities include effective communication between various departments that have a great deal of responsibility related to sexual discrimination, harassment and assault, including Public Safety, Student Affairs and others. It’s also my job to track sexual assault reports and identify trends and issues of concern.
How can faculty and professional staff support the University’s efforts to respond effectively to sexual assault?
First of all, if you work with Drexel students, we mandate that you report any sexual misconduct complaint that you hear through our reporting structure. This applies whether you hear of a complaint directly from a victim or from a third party. If you hear of a complaint from a student, don’t tell him or her that you won’t tell anyone; instead, say that you’re required to inform the Title IX Coordinator or a deputy coordinator to ensure that the complainant will get the resources and support he or she needs. If you hear a complaint, contact me or one of the Title IX deputies. Contact information is available on the Title IX resources page. If students wish to keep their complaints confidential, they can contact the Counseling Centers on the University City and Center City campuses.
In addition, faculty and professional staff will soon have an opportunity to volunteer to assist with Drexel’s response to sexual assault reports. We’re modifying our response process to make process advisers available to all parties involved in Title IX matters, including complainants and respondents. We’re encouraging community members who are interested in helping to sign up for training. Anyone is eligible to become a Title IX adviser, but they need to be trained. We will thoroughly train them so that they’ll be able to support their advisees as they go through the investigative and adjudicatory process. People interested in helping should contact Lexi Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.