Title IX Navigates What’s Next

UC wide policy change, UCSC to hire more staff and the intersections of graduate students

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UC settled 17 Title IX cases for a total of over $3.7 million, enough to pay 123 students’ in-state tuition for a year, from 2013-16. One of the largest settlements in Title IX history, for $1.15 million, was brought forward by UC Santa Cruz student Luz Portillo last year.

These settlements, first reported by the Sacramento Bee, expose what Title IX complainants already know to be true — Title IX offices across the UC are mishandling cases. To address what changes must be made for Title IX, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) created the first Student Advisory Board for the system-wide Title IX office in January.

Title IX is a part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 meant to promote equal access to education, the civil rights law that states no person can be discriminated against on the basis of sex. In recent years, Title IX came to serve as protection against sexual harassment, assault and violence.

“Equal access to education means education that’s free from gender based violence [and] is free from intimate partner violence,” said Gianna Pauline Passalacqua, UCSC undergraduate representative. “Because we can’t expect survivors to have equal access to education when they are being forced to go to classes with their perpetrator or live next door to their rapist.”

System-wide interim Title IX coordinator Suzanne Taylor said these changes are not attributed to the over $3.7 million in settlements but the UC is constantly reflecting on its policies. The board is a way for students to make recommendations on revision of UC Title IX policy.

While system-wide Title IX policy begins revision the UCSC office is also undergoing its own transformations in staffing. Recent Title IX settlements drew attention to the burden that graduate students face when reporting to Title IX. With all this in mind, the recently formed UCOP Student Advisory Board intends to shed light on issues facing graduate and undergraduate populations system-wide.

UC Wide

For the first time in UC history, student feedback has a formal role in Title IX policy revisions.

The systemwide Title IX Student Advisory Board is comprised of a graduate student and undergraduate student from each campus, aside from UC San Francisco which only has graduate programs. Passalacqua, undergraduate, and Alison Hanson, graduate, are the UCSC campus representatives.

Passalacqua and Hanson both said the main revision the board is focusing on is creating trauma-informed policy, transparency and definitions of violence that are queer inclusive and non-heteronormative. Hanson emphasized the desire for the board to make more radical demands of the UC system-wide Title IX guidelines.

“We’re trying to think about what we want to do as a board beyond that, not necessarily just directed by UCOP,” Hanson said, “but what are the kinds of priorities that we have as students on the board based on the feedback that we’re getting from students on campus.”

Passalacqua and Hanson attend board meetings and monthly conference calls with the 17 other board members to talk through problems specific to each campus. The UCSC representatives are currently collecting feedback from UCSC students through an online survey and weekly office hours. Though they have been collecting feedback since January, student participation has been lower than expected.

“We really want to ensure that the policies and the processes [of Title IX], both as laid out on paper and as enacted in practice, are more student-centered and are more trauma informed,” Hanson said.

Under Title IX any person who attends an institution that receives federal education funding is protected. Last year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and 2014 Question and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence. These crucial Obama-era protections made Title IX more inclusive to queer and gender non-conforming people. UC President Janet Napolitano maintained a commitment to the old guidelines put forth by the Obama Administration.

Recommendations of the student board are set to be released sometime during this summer.

UC Santa Cruz

With no permanent Title IX officer and changes in staffing and leadership, the UCSC Title IX office is undergoing changes of its own.

Changes specific to UCSC pertain to the staffing and caseload management, according to Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp. With 399 reports in the 2016-17 academic year at UCSC alone, the Title IX office was stretched thin Tromp said.   

“I thought the office was understaffed so there were cases that were moving slowly and it wasn’t because there wasn’t real attention to it,” Tromp said. “It was the sheer volume because what happens in a cultural moment where people become open to talking about sexual violence is suddenly you go from three reports to 30 reports.”

Tromp said Title IX is looking into systems that would allow more transparency about settlements and investigations. At other universities there are systems in place that allow the university to go public about case settlements to keep the campus community informed.

At UCSC an investigator and a paralegal have been hired in the last year. Cherie Scricca has been the interim Title IX Officer since Fall 2017.

Former Title IX Officer Tracey Tsugawa left for a position at University of Oregon in June 2017 along with Ray Lader a principal investigator. Starting this fall at UC Santa Cruz, Title IX moved from Business and Administrative Services to the CP/EVC Office. This was Tromp’s personal decision to move Title IX to her office.

UCSC still does not have a permanent Title IX coordinator, it is unknown how long that search will continue.

Graduate Student Vulnerability

Among all those protected under Title IX,  graduate students position makes them specifically vulnerable to retaliation after reporting.

In the last year, this susceptibility to sexual assault and harassment has been brought into nationwide attention. Jess Whatcott, UCSC Graduate Student Association president from 2016-17, previously said in an interview that graduate students walk a unique tightrope as they navigate their way through higher education.

“Graduate students work very closely with one or two faculty members and so they’re very vulnerable to retaliation,” Whatcott said in a previous interview. “That came up a lot, the fear of reporting and having one’s academic career cut off.”

Over the last year and half the UCSC Title IX office has received 42 reports from graduate students, half of those reports were made by a mandated reporter — not the student.

“Based on just the information for this past year and a half, and the conversations we have had with graduate students, it is a concern for this office,” said Laura Young Hicks, UCSC Title IX response team coordinator.

The average time for reporting sexual assault or harassment is 12 months, according to Cherie Scricca interim Title IX officer, but in Scricca’s experience graduate students often wait longer to report. This can be for many reasons, but a primary worry is usually retaliation. Because of this graduate students will wait to report until they secure a letter of recommendation or tenure track position.

“[A lot of cases] across the UC system have had to do with faculty preying on graduate students and graduates have a uniquely vulnerable position,” said Alison Hanson graduate student representative for UCOP Student Advisory Board. “We’re treated both as students as well as researchers, TA’s or even sometimes as instructors.”

While Title IX is still under attack at the national level the UC has a role in setting standards through its commitment to addressing sexual assault and harassment on campus. The role student input will play is more crucial than ever in revisions of system-wide policy that is meant to protect the campus community from sexual assault, harassment and retaliation.