Over the past two years, Title IX reports at Lewis & Clark have tripled. An increase in reporting does not necessarily indicate an increase in sexual harassment and assault however. Administrative changes over the past three school years are likely the cause of the uptick.
In the 2012-13 school year, LC received 5 Title IX reports. In the 2015-16 school year, there were 48. Over the summer of 2014, a number of changes were made institutionally that caused this increase.
According to Vice President, Provost and Title IX Coordinator Jane Atkinson, one cause is a newly integrated database used by Title IX Coordinators across all three LC campuses.
“One is we have a really wonderful database that we’re all using now, more effectively, to record every report that comes in,” Atkinson said. “Before, because we have three schools, with the law school, the grad school and the college, we have a number of us who serve as Title IX coordinators, or deputy coordinators. Very often, a report would be made and we would work with the appropriate team to address the issue and if it actually turned into a full blown investigation.”
Before this change, reports would follow procedure within their department, but would not be included in a comprehensive figure for the college as a whole.
The reports included in the new figures range from those submitted anonymously online without naming either party to those that end up following a more formal investigative process.
“We are doing a much better job institutionally, with training our staff and faculty, about their role in letting the Title IX Coordinators know about these things, but we’re also training all of our students to let them know that these are your resources and this is how you report this,” Charlie Ahlquist, Associate Dean of Student Rights and Responsibilities said.
The 2014-15 school year was the first with the Pioneer Success Institute (PSI) in place for incoming students, which included an interactive section on the sexual misconduct policy and consent. This, combined with the additional mandatory online “Think About It” module, served to give students a better understanding of their resources on campus.
Faculty and staff have a role as well. They all must complete an online sexual harassment training and Ahlquist and Atkinson have been going to faculty meetings on all three campuses to remind faculty and staff of their obligations under Title IX.
“Faculty and staff have a very distinctive role here,” Atkinson said. “Their role is to make certain that we hear about it, so that somebody in a position of responsibility in these matters can reach out to the student. A student will sometimes confide in a staff or faculty member and be told [by the staff member] ‘I can’t keep this quiet, we’re going to notify the Title IX Coordinator, and you’re going to hear from somebody.’ Then when we are able to talk to that student, we make it really clear, you know, that [they’re] in the driver’s seat.”
The sexual misconduct policy was also modified in the summer of 2014.
“Our previous policy did not include language surrounding intimate partner violence, so domestic and dating violence, and that’s something that we needed to include.,” Ahlquist said. “We also added information about prohibited relationships by persons in authority … because of the power dynamic that exists there, so we codified that into our policy.”
In addition to all of these changes, Ahlquist believes that an increase in the national conversation around consent and sexual assault also influenced the increase in reports.
“Students now are showing up with more awareness than they would have had a few years ago, because there’s been more conversations in their high schools or in society in general,” Ahlquist said. “That means that when something happens, they’re more likely to realise, ‘oh that’s not okay and there’s someone out there who should be able to help me with this, like the Title IX Coordinator.’”
With all of these institutional changes in place, Ahlquist and Atkinson hoped that it would increase the rate of reporting. Atkinson calls it “a sign of trust.”
“Honestly, it was a hope of ours,” Ahlquist said. “Something that exists within the research and through what we have seen, an increase in reports doesn’t necessarily indicate that there is more misconduct going on, it indicates that people are more aware of how to pass that information along to the appropriate parties.”