Title IX: Growing a culture that doesn't tolerate sexual violence

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Imagine going out for the evening, accepting a drink from a friend of a friend at a local bar then, later, regaining consciousness to find the person's roommate-a star athlete-forcing himself on you.

Or attending a frat party, drinking too much and ending the evening as a rape victim.

These two incidents have four things in common: The victims were students who reported what happened to their respective Lower 48 universities. Those universities failed to properly investigate and resolve their allegations. The accused attackers remained in school, with no disciplinary action taken against them. The accusers found themselves shunned, retaliated against and accused of lying.


Marva Watson coordinates UAA's Title IX compliance efforts. (Photo by Ted Kincaid, University of Alaska Anchorage)

Horror stories like those have galvanized Marva Watson, director of UAA's Office of Campus Diversity & Compliance and the two investigators who help receive, investigate and resolve complaints about incidents of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and sexual violence. Since August 2011, UAA (including its community campuses in Mat-Su, Valdez, Kodiak and the Kenai Peninsula) has received 146 complaints of sexual harassment, she said.

"It's a responsibility every one of us have," Watson said. "We want people to feel safe, help people have a stronger awareness of behaviors that are unacceptable and that they've come to a living and work environment that's not going to be part of a culture of discrimination or harassment."

Getting information out there

Watson oversees a variety of UAA initiatives that reach out to people who need help in some way.

The most prominent of these initiatives is raising awareness about a 42-year-old federal law known as "Title IX." Title IX is one of the educational amendments of 1972-which were attached to the 1964 Civil Rights Act-and it dramatically transformed the world of college athletics.

Watson, UAA's Title IX coordinator, spends much of her time these days focusing on educating as many people as she can about Title IX's 37 words, which state: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Many people believe Title IX is just about providing equal facilities, equipment and athletic scholarship opportunities for both men and women participating in a university's sports programs.

But it's much more.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in all programs and activities at a university. It offers protection to anyone who's been raped, touched inappropriately, harassed for dates or trapped in a situation where a much-needed scholarship or good grades might hinge on whether a student submits to sexual pressure from a coach, instructor or anyone else who can influence the course of their educational experience.

Training about Title IX has been happening at UAA for close to two years, Watson said, but ramped up in May after the U.S. Department of Education disclosed the names of 55 colleges under investigation for possibly violating federal rules aimed at stopping sexual harassment. The Department then announced it would add the University of Alaska System and 11 other educational institutions to its list of those being audited to determine how they responded to reports of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The Department of Education stated that being on the list doesn't mean the universities violated the law, just that they are under investigation. The Department did not state exactly why they chose to add those universities to the list-whether it was in response to a compliance review or due to a complaint.

Each UA campus must compile a report that includes documentation of incidents of sexual harassment, as well as information from student groups and employee and student handbooks. The final version of the report is due July 30 and the OCR will schedule campus visits sometime this fall.

"The UA System welcomes this review," an announcement in the UA System's "The Statewide Voice" said. "We look forward to strengthening awareness, educational campaigns, services, policies and procedures if they are lacking in any way...The UA System will work closely with our universities and community campuses to ensure the details of these site visits are broadly known, to ensure that everyone has opportunities to participate."

UAA and other campuses in the UA System are presenting a series of online, video, video-conferencing, audio and in-person training sessions designed to help all students, faculty and employees better understand Title IX. All employees must complete the training by early fall. Overall, more than 900 people at UAA have received Title IX training, with 509 people receiving their training between June 16 and July 10, Watson said. Faculty will be coming back on contract in August and new-student orientation is ahead as well, so more waves of training are coming up. There are a total of 19,000 students attending classes at UAA's main campus and its community campuses.

"This training is another way of empowering our constituents to let us know if there is a problem, in that they know we want them to speak up," Watson said. "They have to further know they won't be retaliated against for speaking up. Once they speak up, we are going to do something about it. It will be addressed."

Helping victims, being fair

Watson has been coordinating these efforts at UAA, with assistance from Dr. Dewain Lee, UAA's Title IX deputy coordinator, and Title IX investigators Jerry Trew and Stephanie Whaley, compliance specialist Mandee Mlcek and Michael Votava, director of student conduct and ethical development. A Title IX steering committee meets weekly.

Stephanie Whaley and Jerry Trew are UAA's Title IX investigators. They have been presenting Title IX training sessions to UAA employees this summer. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Stephanie Whaley and Jerry Trew are UAA's Title IX investigators. They have been presenting Title IX training sessions to UAA employees this summer. (Photo by Ted Kincaid/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Each of UAA's 3,000 employees-regular and temporary-must sign up and attend one of the Title IX training sessions. The sessions include information about sexual harassment and assault, various types of offenders, and videos-one of which vividly illustrates various things bystanders can do to help derail a disturbing situation before it devolves into a sexual assault.

"It's pretty emotional training," Trew said. "With one in four women being raped in college, we try to come up with training that's real. We worry about victims. It's not 'check the box off' training. We want to help victims remain in control of their destiny. Our goal is to get them healthy, keep them moving along with their education, ensure they're getting all the resources available to them."

Reports they receive, Watson said, involve harassment and instances of people who inappropriately speak to or touch someone. Sometimes even an item as seemingly trivial as a poster can convey an intimidating or offensive message. Each complaint must be investigated within 60 days, and a remedy devised if a victim experienced harm. Consequences could involve a variety of possible outcomes, ranging from counseling to expulsion of a student or termination of an employee.

"People don't know what they don't know," Watson said. "If you do not realize your behavior is victimizing someone, you need to know, and more importantly, you need to know to stop it. If you also think you're in a work or living environment that doesn't want to know, then you need to know conversely, we do want to know, to speak up."

Watson says investigations are prompt, impartial and take in accounts from both sides, to protect the rights of people who are accused but might be innocent. If the victim decides to notify police, Watson said, campus investigators stay out of their way while continuing their Title IX inquiry.

"We need to assure due process," she said. "We've got to find out what the facts are."

Some of the most notorious cases of campus-related sexual violence that have hit the headlines in the Lower 48 have featured prominent college athletes.

Watson says Title IX training has been integrated into UAA athletes' Seawolf Start orientation. UAA Athletic Director Keith Hackett said he's striving to have 100 percent of his staff trained before the start of the academic year, Watson noted.

"And he followed up," Watson said. "He himself has been to two of the sessions. There's going to be a culture here that doesn't tolerate any form of sexual harassment and there will be consequences. No one deserves to be victimized."

Read UAA's 2013 Campus Security and Fire Safety Report to see campus crime statistics from 2010-2012 and learn institutional policies not only about what to do after a sexual assault has occurred, but also about campus security awareness, alcohol and drug education and crime and fire prevention. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities to publish an annual security report by Oct. 1, maintain a publicly available log of each crime and its disposition and issue warnings about crimes that pose a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees. UAA's 2014 report will be available Sept. 20.

 Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement

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