VCU adjusts compliance efforts with Title IX

Sarah King
News Editor

Graphic by Miranda Leung.
Graphic by Miranda Leung.

Amidst increased public scrutiny of institutional, state and federal compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal law forbidding sexual discrimination on college campuses, VCU president Michael Rao mandated in an email to the VCU community last Thursday that students must now complete an online training course focusing on sexual violence, bystander intervention and risk reduction strategies.

Rao’s Thursday announcement came a day after the VCU police issued a crime alert notifying the community of a reported sexual assault on the Monroe Park campus, and less than a month after the university’s federal deadline to provide the Office of Civil Rights with copies of all files pertaining to internal Title IX investigations from Jan. 1 to Aug. 1, and all discrimination complaints since 2012, according to a July article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The RTD further reported that the Aug. 15 deadline was a mandatory requirement for the OCR to finalize their federal review of VCU’s compliance with Title IX in response to two student complaints of mishandled cases last year. 

On April 23 of this year, Rao signed an OCR Resolution Agreement, which, among other stipulations, required VCU to revise its misconduct policy and clarify that harassment based on gender is a form of discrimination.

The first paragraph of the Agreement states that this “does not constitute an admission by the University of any violation of Title IX (…t) or any other law enforced by OCR,” and their April 29 letter officially closing the investigation stated that the OCR had not determined whether VCU was in compliance or not.

“Over the past several months, we have taken a hard look at Title IX and other related compliance efforts and determined that a new structure is necessary to strengthen compliance integrity and improve policies and procedures,” Rao said in an announcement to the VCU community on Aug. 4.

Part of this new structure was the Office of Institutional Equity’s shift from the Division for Inclusive Excellence to a new office under the Division of Finance and Administration. Rao also stated that he was committing himself to creating more resources for the office such as hiring more investigators who specialize in civil rights compliance.

“That arm of the organization has more of a focus on compliance and I think what a lot of universities are trying to figure out is where it’s best to place the office organizationally,” said Charles Klink, associate vice provost for student affairs, on why the Office of Institutional Equity moved to the Division of Finance and Administration.

Klink added that the federal and state mandates in place requiring proper training and compliance at the institutional level were a factor in the new placement of the office.

On April 29, the same date the OCR concluded VCU’s investigation, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report, a gesture aimed at strengthening federal enforcement efforts by announcing a series of actions for institutions to abide by.

On Aug. 21, Gov. Terry McAuliffe implemented a similar task force at the state level. McAuliffe’s announcement demanded “top to bottom review” of sexual misconduct and discrimination cases as well as institutional implemention of “best practices.” Every public four-year Virginia institution also signed a joint declaration pledging to aggressively combat sexual violence on campuses in light of McAuliffe’s initiative.

James Madison University, University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond are currently under investigation by the OCR for violations specifically related to sexual violence.

The two complaints against VCU were compiled into one OCR investigation. Graduate business student Antoinette Moore filed a complaint to the OCR in Sep. 2013 that the university didn’t properly handle gender-based discrimination she experienced in her MKTG 656 class. The Times-Dispatch reported that the other case accused VCU of failing to maintain victim confidentiality during a Title IX investigation involving law enforcement.

“The complaint alleges that a group of male students (…) discriminated against her based on sex (…) and (the university) failed to take prompt and appropriate action to resolve these concerns,” read Team Leader of the OCR’s DC office, Rachel Glickman’s Oct. response to Moore’s complaint.

“OCR will include an allegation that the University retaliated against the Complaintant when she notified an assistant dean of the alleged sex discrimination, and was told that she could be dismissed from the University …” continued the response.

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 6.21.20 PMGlickman also noted that if an individual is harassed or intimidated for filing a complaint or participating in OCR case resolution, a second complaint allegation is permissible.

In May, Moore filed a subsequent complaint arguing that she had faced retaliation from the university following the conclusion of the OCR’s investigation a month prior. The Times-Dispatch reported that VCU business faculty and administrators received Title IX training on May 12.

“I’d say the last three or four years internally we’ve been looking at issues related to Title IX and services we provide to students and ways to be more comprehensive in educating faculty, staff and students in Title IX related issues,” Klink said. He declined comment regarding any external review.

One of these internal measures is the online training Rao mandated students will have to complete in his Thursday email. Klink said these measures were “in the works” even before McAuliffe’s Executive Order No. 1 was established in Jan. of this year. The executive order prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We, about a year ago, talked about starting the online training and selecting a vendor to do it and how that would be rolled out,” Klink said. “Next week sometime students will get an email from Dr. Exum, vice provost for student affairs, about the online program students will be required to complete,” he added.

The online training program is entitled “Not Anymore,” and Klink said the committee chose it because it conveys good information, doesn’t victim blame, is LGBTQ-inclusive and inclusive of individuals with disabilities. He said the different modules will address topics of sexual violence, the bystander effect, unhealthy relationships and other similar components.

“I think the thing we’ve come to realize at VCU is that there’s no silver bullet, there have to be many ways that you convey the information across multiple venues and audiences so that people understand what the issues are and to contribute to a safe climate where people feel safe and free from harassment,” Klink said.

The investigation regarding Moore’s subsequent May complaint against VCU is ongoing.

OCR investigations are finalized with resolution agreements mandating changes like the one Rao signed in April. Failure to comply on the university’s behalf can result in action from the U.S. Department of Justice or deprivation of federal funding.

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