Three weeks ago, the University of Richmond Police Department issued a timely warning to campus community members detailing a reported sexual assault.
“Seeing the timely warning was honestly upsetting to me," said Mike Laposata, a Richmond College Student Government Association senator. "You never want to see sexual assault on college campuses, but at least it goes to show that things are being reported.”
This was the first and only timely warning issued this semester, and the news follows a period of much controversy surrounding how Title IX cases are handled on campus.
It was also announced early Thursday morning in a university-wide email that Maura Smith, Title IX coordinator and director of compliance, would be leaving her position at Richmond on Feb. 24.
Smith has accepted a position as director of human resources within the athletic department at Virginia Commonwealth University.
President Ronald Crutcher has continued to keep university community members updated on any changes made to sexual violence prevention efforts, the most notable of which includes ensuring that the entire Title IX process is kept independent from the coordinate college system.
“The last update shared that the process now involves working with an external investigator and an external hearing board officer. That is where we still are,” Smith said.
Before Crutcher’s Oct. 7 update detailing the immediate steps that would be taken in an effort to change sexual misconduct policies, Title IX investigators and conduct officers also held positions in both Westhampton and Richmond Colleges.
On Nov. 21, Crutcher announced that Dr. Tina Cade, the associate vice president for student development, would serve as the new conduct officer. Cade is a university staff member who is independent from either college.
“I want to stress that the Title IX process itself is unchanged," Smith said. "The personnel involved is what has changed, and that is as a result of student feedback and suggestion."
The university has now engaged an external investigator to begin Title IX investigations, conduct interviews, gather information and produce the report that determines whether there is sufficient evidence of a violation of sexual misconduct policy.
It remains the Title IX coordinator’s job to administer the entire on-campus process, such as offering support mechanisms and intermediate remedial measures. According to the email announcing Smith's departure, interim deputy Title IX coordinator Tracy Cassalia will serve as the primary point of contact for anyone wishing to report an incident of sexual misconduct until Smith’s position is filled.
“If a [sexual misconduct] report came in, and we reached out to the student and met with them, we would spend most of our time talking about support, resources and options for help,” Smith said.
If the student chooses to continue with the Title IX process, it would then be Cade’s job to look at evidence gathered in the investigator’s report and determine whether the university’s sexual misconduct policy has been violated.
The accused, if found guilty, would then be charged. They can then either accept responsibility and receive their sanctions or pursue a hearing where the entire case is reviewed again by members of the hearing board.
“Hearing board members are staff at the university," Smith said. "There is no one from RC or WC. They are from across campus, volunteer their time and have been trained extensively in this area.”
This is a change to Richmond’s Title IX process, as the hearing board officer was previously the dean of the accused student’s college.
“We received some feedback that the perception was that the dean had more of a say in the process than they actually did, so we removed RC and WC completely,” Smith said.
Richmond now uses an external firm that provides a hearing board officer to administer the entire process, therefore making the roles of investigator, conduct officer and hearing board officer all independent from the coordinate college system.
Other changes include the creation of the Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors (PSMAs), a student group trained as confidential resources in Title IX policy.
“I’m thrilled for the PSMA group," Smith said. "It’s another resource that is independent from the coordinate colleges, and the PSMAs will be able to connect with survivors on a certain level, but are still knowledgable about the Title IX process."
The PSMA group formally started its work on the first day of the spring semester and is now listed as one of the on-campus, confidential resources in timely warning notices.
“Whether it be us answering questions about the reporting process or just sitting there with the student, we are here to help,” senior Alexandra Abreu said, who started the program with sophomore Claire Comey.
“What we really appreciate is all of the information that URPD provides in timely warning messages, including the fact that they mention not only the university Title IX office as a possible resource for students but also newer resources, such as the PSMA group,” Smith said.
PSMAs fill in a much-needed gap as people in the community to whom students can talk, but who are not required by law to report to a formal administrator.
“My heart drops every time I get the notification that a timely warning has been sent out," Abreu said. "As a PSMA, I encourage students to reach out to us if they need any help.”
Contact reporter Jocelyn Grzesczak at firstname.lastname@example.org