DeKALB — “The fight doesn’t end here,” Sandra Puebla, SA director of Governmental Affairs, said at a student-led protest of NIU’s Title IX process.
At noon Friday, students gathered in the MLK Commons to rally against sexual assault on campus.
After a period of testimony in which survivors spoke of their experiences, a march was held.
The demonstration, called by Puebla and sophomore nutrition major Fayth Springer, aimed to bring attention to flaws in the policies and procedures of Title IX at NIU.
Springer said she has firsthand knowledge of the reporting process, as she filed a report after being sexually assaulted in her dorm last September.
The form was returned inconclusive, due to a lack of evidence. She said she sees her abuser frequently on campus.
“By being here today, you all are actively being advocates,” Springer said, addressing those assembled. “We believe the administration needs to do its job by having discussions with students. One conversation is not enough.”
Springer and Puebla then read a list of five demands for the administration.
The first demand by Springer and Puebla was for a consistent and expedited time frame for the processing of reports to the Title IX office.
Springer said her own investigation took seven months to reach a conclusion, which is outside the period of 45 to 60 days Title IX establishes as the standard duration, according to the Ethics and Compliance Office’s website.
Puebla said long investigations put students at a disadvantage.
“It’s unfair that students have to wait up to nine months to know whether their perpetrator will be punished or not,” Puebla said. “Students need closure and time to heal. It’s impossible to do that when a Title IX decision is looming over your head.”
Acting Director of Title IX Sarah Garner responded to this request following the protest.
She said expediting the timeframe will be something taken into consideration over the summer.
“We’re going to look at how we can better manage and cross-train our individuals,” Garner said. “We’re going to look at ways in which we can use our other investigators more effectively to file requests in a more timely manner.”
Springer and Puebla called for safety bulletins for all instances of student misconduct on campus, following the practices of other universities.
NIU releases safety bulletins as required by the Clery Act, which says colleges administering federal aid must release campus crime statistics and security information.
The University of Illinois at both the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago locations releases safety bulletins that “often [go] beyond legal requirement,” according to the University of Illinois Police website.
Springer said it’s time for NIU to adopt this practice of providing detailed bulletins of all incidences of student misconduct.
“This should be required for our safety,” Springer said. “Students should know if there’s a potential abuser in their buildings so they can be proactive.”
Garner and Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael would not comment on this request.
Tom Phillips addressed this concern during Monday’s public forum on Title IX policies and procedures.
“This isn’t U of I,” Phillips said. “Sometimes, these incidents don’t meet the threshold of a security bulletin.”
He said deductive conclusions needed to produce the facts of a report would compromise the confidentiality required for the Title IX process.
Springer and Puebla also called for the inclusion of a student taskforce in the administration’s efforts to review and update Title IX policies by next semester.
“We need students’ voices to be heard,” Puebla said. “Title IX coordinators do not know what students need during the investigation process. We need students to sit down in a focus group and discuss the issues Title IX has.”
Wesener Michael said she supports the inclusion of students’ perspectives at all levels.
She said her engagement with students will be happening over this summer.
“My role at this university, and in this particular situation, is to advocate for and support students,” Wesener Michael said. “I am happy to receive demands and work with students and university administration in the Title IX office to make our processes as student-friendly and victim-centered as possible.”
Rights and Resources
Springer and Puebla called for a better explanation of the rights and resources available to students undergoing the reporting process.
These resources include access to counseling, the presence of a student advocate during all investigation proceedings and the option to report to local police, Garner said.
“[Students] deserve more than a dry, sterile and intimidating process.” Springer said. “We need students to feel supported. Investigators need to provide the resources we need instead of leaving it up to us.”
Garner said the Title IX Office will be identifying communication gaps over the summer by observing better opportunities to contact students.
“I think we can do a better job to inform students about resources,” Garner said. “We need to look at our outreach to students, how to get this information to them and, most importantly, how to connect them with an advocate who is going to be that main resource for information.”
Springer and Puebla called for the hiring of more investigators to the Title IX Office.
The office currently employs one full-time investigator for all student reports, and uses cross-trained staff to fill in as needed, Garner said. In 2017, 49 incidences of sexual violence on campus were reported with an enrollment of 18,042, according to the 2018 Annual Safety and Security Report.
In 2017, Illinois State University reported 51 incidences of sexual violence with an enrollment of 18,751. Southern Illinois University reported 46 incidences of sexual violence with an enrollment of 14,554.
“We cannot have one Title IX investigator for the entire university,” Puebla said. “All students who have been sexually assaulted deserve a fast and thorough process.”
When asked if the Title IX office will be hiring more investigators, Garner said the staffing structure will be reorganized over the summer.
Many students said they came in support of the survivors in their own lives.
“So many of my friends have been victims of sexual assault and domestic violence,” first-year computer science major Clay Cortina said. “It gets tiring to keep hearing about it, so I wanted to come out to support student voices.”
Other students said they want more accountability for students’ concerns on behalf of administration.
Junior psychology major Marissa Wadsworth, who said she has been undergoing the Title IX report process since December, said she wishes to see a sustained effort from officials to review standing policies and procedures.
“When the semester started and time went on without me hearing anything, I truly thought [the office] had forgotten about my case,” Wadsworth said “I was conflicted by feeling relieved that I didn’t have to go through the rest of the process, but then upset because I wanted something to be done. Now that I’m still going through the case, and hearing so little about what’s going on, I’m never sure what the next step is, so I’m constantly feeling anxious.”
Updated May 8