Sexual assault becomes national concern

Allegheny hires full-time Title IX coordinator for first time

Last year 10 students were disciplined for sexual assault violations. Four students were expelled from the college and six students were suspended for a one to four semester period of time.

Sexual assault has become a national conversation across college campuses, with Title IX at the forefront of the discussion.

Katie Pope was hired as Allegheny’s first Title IX coordinator. This is the first time Allegheny has had the full-time, stand-alone position of Title IX coordinator. Pope began her position in September 2014. Before accepting her position at Allegheny, Pope worked at Purdue University as the Title IX deputy coordinator and managing director of the Butler Center for Leadership Excellence.

Despite not having the full-time position of Title IX coordinator prior to the 2014-2015 academic school year, Pope explained similar positions have been in place at the college.

“There’s been either a sexual harassment officer or an equal opportunity officer or a Title IX officer for a number of years,” said Pope.

Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 guarantees equal opportunity in education.

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” reads the Title IX regulation.

Pope’s job as Title IX coordinator is to integrate Title IX regulations at the federal level with the college’s policies and procedures, in addition to her other responsibilities like education outreach.

“I’m also responsible for making sure the faculty and staff get all the training they’re required to have,” Pope said. “So far this fall we’ve trained something like almost 200 faculty and staff on Title IX just within the last month.”

…sometimes I get from folks ‘Well, I told the student I wouldn’t tell anybody.’ That option is not on the table. It’s just not.

— Katie Pope

Pope also explained that her position is more individualistic than other positions on campus.

“It’s not like I have a big staff or anything like that but it’s in part that way because I need to work with a variety of different folks all across campus, whether that’s with the residence halls or that’s with individual students or that’s with student organizations or my colleagues in CIASS or my colleagues in the counseling center or whatever it is. It’s just a pretty broad range,” Pope said.

Pope is in the process of training Title IX deputies and community support  people who will be available to students as resources. Currently, Jacquie Kondrot, associate dean of students for wellness education, and Mandy Prusia, associate director of athletics for compliance & operations, are serving as deputy Title IX coordinators. More faculty and staff are expected to be trained as deputies.

Pope alluded to miscommunication about what her position as Title IX coordinator entails. Being on campus just over a month, Pope has already met with students concerned about the logistics of reporting a sexual assault in relation to Title IX responsibilities.

“Here’s what I need everybody on campus to understand,” said Pope. “Let’s say it’s a student reporting an assault. When a student goes to a faculty member, staff member or me and says ‘I’ve been sexually assaulted,’ all of those people are required by law…to report the assault to me as the Title IX coordinator.

“So the first thing I want students to know is that while there are confidential resources available to students, like the counseling center, women’s services, those pieces, if [students] go to somebody who doesn’t have that role, that capacity as a medical health provider in some way, anyone else is required to bring that report forward. I say that because sometimes I get from folks ‘Well, I told the student I wouldn’t tell anybody.’ That option is not on the table. It’s just not. That’s part of the reason this national discussion is happening.”

When federally-funded colleges have knowledge of a sexual assault, the college is required by law to do respond.

“Now, I don’t want that to deter students from reporting and that’s why I stress that there are a number of confidential options available to them still because if somebody in the counseling center gets a report, they don’t have to come to me,” Pope said. “They are contracted by their ethics clauses as counselors and they are not required to report. But if a student goes to their faculty adviser and reports, that faculty adviser is required to bring that information to me.”

The only time a third party, other than Pope, will be notified of a sexual assault is if the student reports directly to Safety and Security. In this case, security is required to contact the Meadville Police Department. However, this does not mean a formal investigation will occur. The student always has the choice as to whether or not they want to file a formal complaint.

“I don’t want students to feel like if they report to somebody else that something big is going to happen,” Pope said. “That’s not necessarily the case, but the college needs to be aware so we can offer support services, interim measures. Maybe a student needs new housing assignment or help getting some time out of a course because of the trauma of what has occurred. It’s my job to make sure we’re helping that student to get whatever it is that they need. And then once the student would come in, I would talk with them, outline how our policies and procedures work, talk with them about what a formal investigation, a formal complaint means.”

Whether students report a sexual assault to a confidential or a non-confidential source, students are not required to file a formal complaint.

“When I say it’s non-confidential, it’s non-confidential in so much as the report comes to me but it doesn’t go any further than that,” Pope said. “I work with the student to understand the policies and processes and let them determine what they need for supportive measures. In some cases, it is possible I may determine it is essential for the safety of the college to pursue an investigation, in which case I would pursue the investigation. If the student says they don’t want to participate, they would not be forced to participate, but there could be situations where there’s a potential safety issue of such concern that the college would need to continue with or without the initial student who’s coming forward, whether or not they would want to be a part of that.”

Filing a formal complaint with the college does not turn the investigative process over to the authorities. Rather, the college pursues an internal investigation with no connection to a criminal process.

They say probably only 38 percent of sexual violence cases are reported nationwide at colleges and universities.

— Jeffrey Schneider

“Our investigative process is completely internal,” Pope said. “It is entirely possible that a criminal process could be happening at the same time as our internal process. It really depends on how the incident is first reported and what the person reporting chooses to do.”

Following a formal complaint, an investigator is assigned to the case. The investigator collects evidence, interviews the respondent and reviews the case against Title IX policies and college policies. The investigator then determines if it is more likely than not that a violation of the policy occurred.

“And once the investigator has that determination, they’ll also recommend a sanction to go along with that determination and they will notify me of that, I will review it and we will notify the parties,” Pope said.

If the respondent is determined guilty of a sexual assault by the investigator, the sanctions that can be taken against the student includes warnings, probation, suspension or expulsion, according to Joseph DiChristina, dean of students.

In response to the The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs are required to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. Safety and Security’s annual security report, which can be found online, presents crime data from 2011-2013 as calendar years. The security report includes anonymous reports in addition to formal reports.

Two cases of non-forcible sex offenses were filed in 2011. Non-forcible sex offenses can include incest and statutory rape. No domestic violence or stalking cases were reported between 2011-2013.

Jeffrey Schneider, director of Safety and Security, explained that the 2014 report is the first report to include dating violence, domestic violence and stalking as separate categories. This means that no data would have been included in these categories for previous years. But this does not mean reports categorized under dating violence, domestic violence and stalking for 2011 and 2012 are unreported, rather, if reported, they are included in other categories.

Under the category of forcible sex offenses, in 2011 one report was filed, five reports were filed in 2012 and 12 reports in 2013. Forcible sex offenses, according to the security report, include forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling (indecent assault) and sexual assault (non-forcible intercourse occurring without consent).

From 2011-2013 reports of forcible sex offenses have increased. Pope suggests that the increase in accounts is more so an increase in reporting assaults than an increase of assaults per year.

Schneider agrees.

“We can only speculate,” Schneider said. “One reason is we think we’re doing a better job with education. Sexual assaults nationwide are the most underreported crime. They say probably only 38 percent of sexual violence cases are reported nationwide at colleges and universities. So that means 62 percent are not for whatever reason.”

Education efforts through the college hope to teach students how to effectively respond to sexual violence. DiChristina noted an increase in bystander training attendance in the 2013-2014 academic year.

“It’s starting to become part of the culture now, students being attentive to and caring for others,” said DiChristina.