Shining a light on Title IX

Does the system do enough to protect against sexual misconduct?

Shining+a+light+on+Title+IX

Graphic by Morgan Anderson

Editor’s note: Some content in this story may be sensitive for some readers.

 

Title IX can seem like a daunting bureaucracy for vulnerable students, faculty, and staff processing the trauma of sexual violence and harassment.

The federal civil rights law prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. At Wichita State, Title IX enforcement falls under the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC), which is housed in the Human Resources building.

Over the last two academic years, 230 sexual misconduct cases have been reported through WSU’s Title IX process, according to data provided by Title IX Coordinator Sara Zafar. Just 15 of those cases — less than 7% — ended in a formal investigation and report, while 34% ended in informal resolutions and services. The data did not indicate how many of those cases involved non-students.

Misconduct cases are up compared to last school year. Since August, 91 reported cases have resulted in five formal investigations and 17 other remedial outcomes.

In an effort to demystify the Title IX investigation process, The Sunflower spoke with OIEC Director Christine Taylor and Student Advocate Jozie Caudillo to ask how the system works for vulnerable campus community members.

 

How does the Title IX process work from beginning to end?

Sexual misconduct complaints are filed through the OIEC form at wichita.edu/reportit. A victim of sexual misconduct may file a complaint themselves, or someone may do so on their behalf. 

Almost all university employees are mandatory reporters of abuse, meaning that if confided in, they must file a complaint. Taylor said the only exceptions are campus employees who work in the Counseling and Prevention Center and Student Health, as well as athletic trainers and ordained ministers functioning in their pastoral role.

The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center campus advocate is not a mandated reporter either.

“Sometimes, people are just more comfortable saying, ‘Well, I just wanted somebody to know, and I don’t want to do anything,'” — Christine Taylor, director of institutional equity and compliance

Once a complaint is filed, the OIEC will reach out to the vulnerable party and offer to meet with them. If the case is deemed serious and the complainant consents, a formal investigation will be undertaken.

Christine Taylor

Taylor said there are “very limited circumstances” under which an investigation will be pursued without the consent of the complainant. Those circumstances arise when there is “an immediate or ongoing threat to campus,” she said.

“It’s predation, pattern, weapon violence. In those circumstances, we will have a conversation with the complainant and sit down with them and say, ‘It’s really important that in the circumstance — in this particular circumstance — that we need as a university to file a formal complaint,’” Taylor said.

Once an investigation has been opened, both parties have an opportunity to provide the Title IX investigator with personal accounts and evidence, which may include text messages and emails. They may also suggest other witnesses for the investigator to interview.

The investigator will then compile a summary of interviews and evidence, and both parties will have the opportunity to clarify and provide additional information before the official report is written.

If the investigator determines that a university discrimination policy has been violated, a sanction will be attached to the final report. Sanctions range from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from the university.

Ultimately, both parties have the option to appeal the ruling through the appeals office.

However, it is rare for a report to make it through this entire process. 

“A lot of people, it’s sometimes it’s too soon for them, and sometimes, people are just more comfortable saying, ‘Well, I just wanted somebody to know, and I don’t want to do anything.’ And that’s fine too,” Taylor said.

 

Does the Title IX process work like it’s supposed to?

COURTESY/SGA
Jozie Caudillo

The student advocate is a Student Government Association cabinet member tasked with helping students address problems that other offices have been unable to resolve. Jozie Caudillo said she took the role largely to help students navigate reporting incidents of sexual misconduct.

Caudillo said she encourages students to see the Title IX investigation process through “so long as it’s not going to harm them in any way or put them in danger.” As a mandatory reporter, she said she will sometimes talk students through hypothetical scenarios if they indicate they aren’t ready to report their stories.

Holding aggressors accountable for their misbehavior is paramount, she said, but investigations take an emotional toll on already vulnerable people.

“It’s scary because if a full-blown investigation can mean they bring in witnesses and they search through your phones, text messages, emails, whatever that can be considered evidence — all that gets brought in,” Caudillo said.

Taylor said Title IX investigators are trained in trauma-informed investigative techniques.

Asked if she believes WSU’s Title IX process functions as it should, Caudillo said the OIEC follows its federally mandated procedure. That doesn’t always lead to productive outcomes, she said.

“I actually haven’t heard a case that successfully went through the process.” — Jozie Caudillo, student advocate

“When you talk to Title IX or whoever and say, ‘Do you think that you’re handling this well?’ they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, we follow our procedure with every single case,’” Caudillo said. “Does that mean that each case is actually going to see through the entire process? No.

“We don’t really have the people that try to make change either at the university level, because it’s gotten to where, you know, the policy is the policy and the procedures is the procedure, but we don’t really have a task force or anybody saying, ‘You know, let’s look at sexual assault on campus and what we’re going to do about it.”

Caudillo said students rarely view their interactions with the Title IX system as satisfactory.

“I actually haven’t heard a case that successfully went through the process — well, in my experience,” Caudillo said.

Taylor said she “can’t really comment on what [Caudillo’s] opinion is” about the effectiveness of Title IX.

“What our office does is, we are responsible for conducting an impartial and thorough and reliable investigation of the matters that are brought to our attention or the matters that do go to a formal investigation,” Taylor said.

 

What are the alternatives to a formal investigation?

Taylor said that in lieu of a formal investigation, face-to-face meetings help investigators understand what remedial measures should be taken.

“We can put in general remedies of no-contact orders or, you know, academic support, a housing reassignment if appropriate, escort from their car to class — whatever those general things,” Taylor said. “But everybody is really — their needs are very unique and their needs change over time, and that’s why it’s always good to have those conversations.”

Caudillo said no-contact orders can sometimes feel constricting. The parties may not interact or speak publicly about each other, including on social media, which she said can sometimes be to the aggressor’s benefit.

“[No-contact orders] can even limit some students to do anything at all either, because then at that point, if you disobey that, you can be in violation of conduct,” Caudillo said.

She said that even though the university has retaliation policies in place to protect reporters, they aren’t widely known and don’t do enough to address the problem. 

“Retaliation is real and does happen after reports. That’s common,” Caudillo said. “So, just as much as the person reporting can report, the other party can also report, and sometimes the cases will even flip onto the person that originally reported.

“It’ll go back and forth, and then it turns into he said, she said, and then no one wants to participate anymore, and then it goes to nothing.”

That means preserving the status quo for vulnerable students, she said.

“[Title IX] is private for reasons that protect the people reporting and stuff like that, but why are we limiting people and what they, you know, what they can share about their experiences and stuff like that?” Caudillo said. “What kind of spaces do we have that people feel safe and open to talk about these kind of things?” 

 

Who does Title IX answer to, and what if there is a process violation?

Until last month, the OIEC reported to former WSU Chief of Staff Andy Schlapp. After the restructuring of President Jay Golden’s executive team, Taylor said she now reports to Director of Operations Anna Clark.

“I report through the president’s office, so it’s the same structure. It may just be a different person,” Taylor said.

Since federal funding is at stake, she said it wouldn’t be “best practice” for anyone in the president’s office to review results of individual Title IX reports.

“The president does not review or anyone that I report to does not review the results of an investigation to either approve it or not,” Taylor said.

“If the Title IX coordinator is doing the investigation, it’s reviewed — I review it.”

If parties believe that the investigation process was violated, a complaint can be filed with the Office for Civil Rights through the U.S. Department of Education.

“When there are complaints filed with the Office for Civil Rights, they come in and they do a review,” Taylor said. “If it’s found that there’s a violation, the university always has the right to enter into a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, and if they comply with that resolution agreement, then the funding is not in jeopardy.”

No university has ever had their funding withdrawn due to a Title IX violation.

 

What can WSU do to make Title IX more accessible?

Caudillo said that in her experience, students don’t know how to go about reporting sexual misconduct.

“Students may not know that I’m a resource for that. I don’t know if students are really reporting at all,” Caudillo said.

“I think that there’s a lot more cases than people believe or want to believe.”

She said the online reporting form is problematic in its own right. The page includes seven distinct reporting forms, including the OIEC, which offers “the opportunity to express any concerns you have related to sex discrimination and/or other forms of discrimination at Wichita State University.”

“It doesn’t necessarily say that OIEC is who you report rape, sexual assault or sexual violence, or any violence to,” Caudillo said. “So if you’re coming from this page, people don’t necessarily know that Institutional Equity and Compliance is — that’s what they do.

“I think that that’s a huge problem is that people don’t know what to do, and even when they do know what to do, that’s a whole different set of problems is actually reporting.”

I think that there’s a lot more cases than people believe or want to believe.” — Jozie Caudillo, student advocate

Taylor said one accessibility problem stems from the fact that WSU does not have mandatory online Title IX training.

“Where I came from at Marquette, we required all of our incoming students, transfer students, and graduate students to take a mandatory online training,” Taylor said. “And that is a very successful vehicle of providing reporting information and ways of reporting to the office.”

She said the OIEC does make a concerted effort to have face-to-face contact with everyone coming into the university.

“We are involved in all the orientation training for students. We are involved in all the orientation trainings for new employees. We are involved in all the new leader orientations. We do face-to-face trainings with the majority of the department’s graduate assistants, and we also train the tutors,” Taylor said.

Caudillo said that ultimately, WSU has a responsibility to make campus a safe place for everyone. The status quo isn’t working, she said.

“I’ve seen cases — a few — where students end up just leaving the university,” Caudillo said. “And so at that point, you know, yes, the university can say, ‘They’re not a student with us anymore,’ but what are we doing to prevent that from happening? These students, they don’t feel comfortable going through a full investigation.”