ASLC forum educates students on Title IX rights

Photo by Mackenzie Herring

By Amelia Eichel

Due to legislation passed by the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) at the end of the Fall 2017 semester, the Student Advisory Team, run by Chief Justice Jacob Muscarella ’21 is now responsible for planning “Know Your Rights” Forums. Vice President and Provost Jane Atkinson, Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel David Ellis and Assistant Dean of Student Rights and Responsibilities Charlie Ahlquist presented at the first Know Your Rights Forum focusing on Title IX on April 2.

In 1972, Title IX was passed to prohibit discrimination based on sex under any education program receiving federal financial assistance.

“Because (LC students) are able to get (federal financial aid) and turn that money over to Lewis & Clark, we are heavily supported by federal financial assistance — which means Title IX applies to us,” Ellis said.

Most of the attention of Title IX issues from the 1970s to early 2000s was on athletic programs in schools because of the blatant inequality in resources that were allocated and treatment of students based on gender. Atkinson was hired at LC in the early 2000s as Title IX Coordinator. Her main job as Title IX Coordinator was to verify that LC’s athletic budgets and participation were in accordance with Title IX. It was not until later that sexual harassment and abuse became part of her role on campus.

“Later on, the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education realized that if anybody in a college, university or K-12 is being harassed or abused, then their ability to have equal access to the educational opportunities at the institution will be impaired,” Ellis said.  

The Office of Civil Rights started notifying universities that they needed to start paying attention to violations and discrimination beyond athletics budgets and participation.

“In 2011, Lewis & Clark and all of higher education got a letter from the Office of Civil Rights saying that colleges and universities need to be much more active in ensuring that all students are in fact able to benefit fully from the educational experience we’re offering,” Atkinson said. “That means (we) need to be very actively involved in identifying incidences in which students are being deprived of educational opportunities because of sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc. Suddenly my job got huge. As did the jobs of people like (Ahlquist) who work with Title IX.”

Federal law requires that LC employees, with some exceptions, are mandatory reporters. This means that if faculty or staff see or hear anything relating to discrimination based on sex including sexual harassment and assault, they are required to notify the Title IX officer or one of the deputy coordinators.

“This means that when students talk with faculty, staff and RAs about anything covered by Title IX, they have to let us know,” Atkinson said. “We then reach out to the student and the student can decide if they want to meet and talk with us or not.”

Students can speak confidentially with the Associate Director for Health Promotion and Wellness Melissa Osmond, the Sexual Assault Response advocates (SARA), counseling staff, health services staff, spiritual life staff and Ombuds. These individuals and organizations are not obligated to report to Title IX coordinators.

“When we reach out to the student, they have the option of whether they come see us or not,” Atkinson said. “We don’t make them do anything. We present a bunch of options and resources to ensure that the students will be able to get support and continue their academic work.”

When it comes to addressing the reported incident, a student can decide to seek support and take action. There are multiple ways to address these incidents with various degrees of severity.

Ahlquist manages the investigation and adjudication of formal complaints.

“At this point last year we had 59 Title IX cases that we had opened,” Ahlquist said. “At this point this year we have 70.”

Atkinson explained why reports have increased.

“Every year, we see an increase in the number of reports we have,” Atkinson said. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that more sexual misconduct is happening on campus. My sense is that what we are seeing is a greater understanding and acceptance of the processes that we have in place and a greater awareness and participation of mandatory reporters.”

Depending on how the victim wants to proceed, not all cases result in investigation and adjudication. The first step is an Initial Title IX Assessment. Based on this evaluation, Ahlquist determines whether or not a crime has occurred, what resources the person needs and how to keep them safe.

“Some students, all they really want is to talk to a counselor,” Ahlquist said. “Others may want something more formal like a No Contact Order. In the instance that there is desire that we take formal action against someone, we initiate an investigation.”

During the questions portion of the forum, one student asked how the presenters might improve upon the interrogation process that sexual assault victims go through during the investigation process.

After acknowledging the inherent difficulty in any situation where someone is forced to recall traumatic events, Ahlquist talked about how investigators are trained in “trauma-informed investigation” practices. This method focuses on the memories that victims are able to recall in the order in which they can recall them, rather than forcing them to explain events in a perfect order.

“There are questions that we have to answer in our processes that can be uncomfortable to ask and uncomfortable for people to have to explore,” Ahlquist said. “That is a challenging reality, but any complainant or respondent going through our process is entitled to have two people with them at all times: an advisor and a support person.”

An advisor can be a faculty member, an attorney, a parent or anyone who can help the individual prepare statements and review policies. The support person is there to help the person feel calm and collected.

Ahlquist pointed out that this is a right granted by Title IX that students would not necessarily know about. These forums intend to inform the student body about rights like these.

“It is important that students have an outlet to ask questions, even if they don’t have personal experiences with the Title IX process,” Senator Ariel McGee ’21 said. “I think there are a lot of things that students don’t know that they would like to know, but they have no way of asking unless they track down the people in charge which is a long process.”

McGee is the only other member of the Student Advisory Team besides Muscarella and will organize the forums next year when she becomes Chief Justice. She has many ideas for what the forums will look like next year.

“First semester of next year I want to start with a forum about nicotine use on campus,” McGee said. “The law (restricting nicotine use to adults 21 and over) passed in January.”

Students’ rights regarding nicotine use will likely change as a result of this new law.

“If the school takes away the designated smoking areas, students have a few choices,” McGee said. “They can stop smoking, but you can look at the statistics: if you’re already a smoker, and people are trying to control your smoking by taking away areas, it doesn’t work. I think people will go into the woods and smoke, and that can be a (safety) hazard. The administration is going to have to look at what will be the most beneficial to the campus and the students. Hopefully by (the fall) the school will have more information on how they plan to proceed with the state law and how it will affect the campus.”

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