In September of 2016, two University of Richmond students published separate accounts detailing the mishandling of their Title IX cases on The Huffington Post’s contributor network.
CC Carreras, now an alumna of UR, reported her sexual assault, which occurred in the summer of 2015, to university administrators. According to Carrera’s HuffPost piece, one of these administrators told her “that it was reasonable for him to penetrate me for a few more minutes if he was going to finish.”
Whitney Ralston, a former student, said her Title IX investigation “never made it to a hearing” because she had been told that her “assailant’s admittance of guilt to one count of violence” waved her right to an appeal, Ralston wrote in her HuffPost piece.
In the wake of last year’s tumultuous fall, students, faculty and staff have worked to create several changes within UR’s Title IX department. But, UR remains under a Title IX investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, according to a recently published document, prompting questions about how these changes will affect campus culture, if at all.
New Employees and Positions
According to the URPD crime log, there have been nine reports of Title IX conduct violations, five of which were labeled as rape, since Sept. 9.
On Saturday, the most recent timely warning was sent to the campus community, providing details of a “fondling" that occurred Friday. Read the entire timely warning here.
Britnie Hopkins, the new sexual misconduct education and prevention coordinator, keeps a printed copy of every timely warning taped above her desk.
“It’s a real sense of motivation for me,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins, who arrived at UR in May, replaced Beth Curry, former coordinator for sexual misconduct and advocacy. Curry left UR in August 2016 due to financial insecurity resulting from her grant-funded position.
Hopkins' position is full-time and fully-funded by the university. Her primary role is to implement all of UR’s prevention and education strategies, she said.
Rennie Harrison, senior, is a member of Spiders Against Sexual Assault and Violence.
“It’s kind of an activist group that sprung out of the shitstorm of the fall,” Harrison said. “We pushed for a lot of changes from President Crutcher.”
One of these changes was removing the Title IX process from the coordinate college system, Harrison said.
Administration removed the coordinator positions from the dean’s offices and announced Tracy Cassalia, former manager of health and wellness, would serve as interim deputy Title IX coordinator for all students while a national search to fill the permanent position, according to a Nov. 21, 2016 email sent by President Ronald A. Crutcher.
Cassalia was named the official deputy Title IX coordinator last spring. The President’s Advisory Committee (PAC) for sexual violence prevention and response, formed last fall, announced the decision on page 12 of a document attached to a June 30 email from Crutcher.
Cassalia’s primary job is to support and to provide resources and accommodation for both students in a Title IX investigation, she said.
“Talking to me doesn’t initiate an investigation,” Cassalia said. “But students can come see me for accommodations, support or any interim measures without identifying any personally identifiable information."
Tina Cade has served as the university conduct officer since spring 2017. Her appointment was announced in the same June 30 PAC report. Cade is also the associate vice president of student development and is the director of multicultural affairs and the Oliver Hill Scholars.
The Oliver Hill Scholars are a subsection of Richmond Scholars, Charlotte Bednarski, a sophomore Oliver Hill Scholar, said.
“I think regardless of the fact that she works with students in Oliver Hill, she is a good fit for the role,” Bednarski said. “She can pass fair judgement.”
The university also hired a new director of Title IX and compliance. Kristine Henderson, who has worked at UR for 20 years, started in the role Monday, and oversees Title IX investigations and coordinates the deputy Title IX coordinators.
Anna Lowenthal, junior, said the additions of Hopkins, Henderson and Cassalia are all positive.
“There’s nothing bad that can come from them,” Lowenthal said. “I definitely think sexual misconduct is something across the United States, specifically on our campus, that needs to be something we’re all hyper-aware of.”
Title IX Policy and Procedure Changes
Last fall, SASAV also pushed for separating Title IX investigations from UR faculty and staff.
Now, Cassalia said, a Title IX investigator from Jackson Lewis law firm conducts the investigation and prepares reports.
Cade and Cassalia then examine the investigative report and compare it against UR’s Title IX policy.
“We’re looking at if it is more likely than not that this could have happened, and looking at how we define consent, non-consensual sexual intercourse and was there a violation or potential violation of our policy," Cassalia said.
It is then Cade’s job to charge, or not charge, the respondent with a violation of the policy, Cassalia said.
“Dr. Cade would determine what the appropriate sanction would be if a student is charged,” Cassalia said. “The student has the option to accept responsibility, not accept responsibility or to accept responsibility but not the sanction imposed.”
If the student does not accept either the charge, the sanctions, or both, the case moves to a University Hearing Board (UHB), a process that has also undergone changes since last fall.
Within the UHB, administration, “extended timeframes for those interviews so that students have more time to review investigative materials and submit questions and witness lists,” Cassalia said.
Both the complainant and respondent can now submit a written response to the investigative report before the hearing, Cassalia said. Both can also make an impact statement at the UHB, she said.
If either the complainant or respondent is dissatisfied with the UHB results, they have the option to appeal the case. Steve Bisese, vice president of student development, oversees and convenes a separate hearing board for appeals.
Center for Sexual Assault
The Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response on campus, located in Sarah Brunet Hall, includes an advocate space, the CAPS office and Hopkins’ office. The advocate space is used by an advocate from Safe Harbor, a domestic abuse treatment center and shelter, and the Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors (PSMA).
“Students wanted to have an extra space where they could meet with someone where they could talk about options, and to have a confidential space to do that,” Kristen Day, CAPS staff psychologist and PSMA faculty adviser, said.
Liz Cozzati, Safe Harbor advocate, is on campus from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
The PSMAs are a confidential resource for students with questions regarding the Title IX process or sexual violence, Alex DeAbreu, senior, said.
“We’re educated advisers for people if they just have a question on Title IX,” DeAbreu said. “It doesn’t mean that anything has necessarily happened to them, but if they just wanted clarification on something, we’re here as that resource.”
Since the PSMAs’ inception in January 2017, more students have accessed the Center for Sexual Assault as a resource, DeAbreu said.
“People are reaching out more for clarification to ask questions to get an idea of what the university definitions are," he said. “There’s also been more people who have come to us just wanting to sit down and talk and see what their options are.”
Moving forward, Day hopes every student on campus feels comfortable using the PSMAs because it's a resource for all students, she said.
This August, all incoming students received a consent presentation during orientation, Hopkins said. Hopkins also created posters addressing consent, and administration implemented a new graduation requirement for all sophomores, beginning with this year’s first-year class.
“Students will be taking a 70-minute online bystander intervention course to help people identify different situations,” Hopkins said. “It does have to be completed within the first six weeks of the student’s second year.”
One of Hopkins’ roles is also to provide bystander intervention programming for any organization on campus that requests it.
Over the summer, Russ Huesman, the Richmond football head coach, requested bystander intervention training for his team.
“Sometimes there’s pressure, in particular on men who are in all-male groups,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes intervening can be seen as something that’s not as masculine, so we were talking about how feeling like there are places along the continuum of violence where players can intervene.”
The players responded well to the training session, Hopkins said. One player came up to Hopkins weeks later to thank her, she said.
“He said, ‘This is the first time someone didn’t make us feel like we were a part of the problem, that we could actually have tools and make good decisions for ourselves,’” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said it was important that each stakeholder on campus be a part of the ongoing conversation to help UR improve its prevention efforts.
“That’s something I’m excited about, knowing that we’re always going to be looking at what can we do better," she said. "Cause it really does impact all of our students here.”
Changes Under Betsy Devos Guidelines
The university is also tasked with adhering to national Title IX guidelines. Administration will pay particular attention because U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently proposed rollbacks on Obama-era policy, Cassalia said.
According to an article by CNN, DeVos attempted to fix how “previous guidance denied proper due process to those accused.” Part of this interim guidance outlines “what schools are obligated to do in response to allegations,” according to the CNN article.
Harrison said DeVos’ guidelines did not do enough to ensure students’ safety.
“It’s not enough that the university just comply with whatever the government says, because that would be such a low, low bar,” Harrison said. “In order to actually protect students and make sure students are safe, we need to be going far beyond that.”
Many of the changes DeVos’ administration proposed are guidelines that UR is already following, Cassalia said. She also said some of these policy changes had been in motion for a while, but some had been spurred from the events of last fall.
“I think it’s kind of a two-fold thing,” Cassalia said. “Many things were in the works already and then many things did change from some of that too.”
For Andrew Geha, senior, the changes made to UR’s Title IX department are all positive ones, but they should have been in place before this year, he said.
“I feel like in some sense, those should’ve already been in place and established, that it didn’t have to take those two incidents, at least with those two girls,” Geha said. “It shouldn’t have taken that to spur all this change.”
Geha's insight is particularly relevant in examining the current nationwide conversation about sexual misconduct.
When multiple women came forward accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct in early October, it sparked a national movement that has left 33 other men in power, and counting, accused of sexual misconduct.
Time Magazine named the “Silence Breakers" as the 2017 Person of the Year, for the people who came forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, creating one of the "highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s," Time's editor-in-chief wrote Wednesday.
Time Magazine chose the Silence Breakers “for giving voice to open secrets" and “for pushing us all to stop accepting the unacceptable."
Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at firstname.lastname@example.org.