Students express doubt in the Office of Title IX at town hall

Alex Appel and Daniel Wilcox, Editor-in-Chief and News Editor

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Several students expressed dissatisfaction and distrust in the Title IX Office, because of the perceived failure of the office in the past, especially in regards to responding to rape allegations.

These feelings were expressed by more than five women at a town hall on Wednesday, May 8 that addressed the issue of sexual misconduct on campus.

The town hall was a part of a larger initiative lead by President David Harris in addressing the climate at Union in regards to sexual harassment and assault.

Vicky Machuca ’22 believed that although “[People in the College’s administration] are trying… they are so disconnected they are aren’t handling it well.” Haley Newman ’22 put forward the perception that “Only students are taking action,” a sentiment echoed by Machuca.

A senior in one of the focus groups at the town hall said that she had more friends than she could count on both hands who had been sexually assaulted, but had not gone to the Office of Title IX.

Harris, who gave the introduction to the town hall, said that he believed that the number of rape cases at this school were severely underreported. According to a sexual assault climate survey that was taken in the academic year of 2016-2017, 13 percent of the people who responded had reported being sexually assault, yet only 14 cases of rape were between 2015 and 2017.

Director of Minerva Programs and Class Dean 2020 Michelle Osborn, who led a focus group that discussed the Title IX process, said that the College does take action in response to Title IX reports, however the records of these cases and the action that the College takes is not well known by the student body.

One student in Osborn’s focus group proposed sharing case complaints and resolutions without giving out the information of specific parties involved to the College, similar to how information about Honor Code violations is shared.

This town hall came in the wake of a lawsuit that was filed against the school on March 1, 2019 which alleged that Union had mishandled a rape investigation. The case was filed by an anonymous Jane Doe. In addition to the College, Jane Doe has sued Chief of Staff Darcy Czajka, Title IX Coordinator Melissa Kelley, Senior Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Trish Williams and the College’s chapter of Theta Delta Chi (TDChi).

While Harris did not mention this lawsuit specifically when giving his introduction to the town hall, he spoke about the presence of a rape problem that existed on a national level and at Union College.

“Union College is a college campus, that means that there is a problem here… [but] we have the ability to do something here,” Harris said.

Harris plans on reinstituting the The Union College Committee on Safety and Education in order to review sexual assault policies and educate the campus about them. At the town hall meeting, it was stated that the committee would be headed by Czajka.

After the alleged rapist of Jane Doe was found not guilty through the College’s adjudication process, Jane Doe filed an appeal to ask the school to review the decision. Czajka served as the head of the Appeals Panel for Jane Doe’s case and dismissed her appeal. The plaintiff argued that as Chief of Staff, Czajka prioritized the interests of the school over the interests of the students.

In addition to this committee Interim Title IX Coordinator at Skidmore College Sarah Delaney Vero ’02 was hired to review the College’s Title IX policies and compare them to other schools. Harris hopes to develop a new Title IX policy with the help of Vero by midsummer and have it in effect before the start of the next academic year.

During his introduction, Harris mentioned the legal restraints that the administration was faced when addressing reports of sexual assault. According to him, the College would be limited even more if the new policies proposed by the current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos were to be implemented. Harris said he wished to go forward with Title IX reform, even with the knowledge that it might be undone by new laws passed on a federal and state level.