Title IX Office, Administration hold open forum

Director of Investigator Larry Ellington (left), Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael, Office of the Dean of Students Kelly Olson and Director of Student Conduct Jeanne Meyer explain Title IX processes and resources Monday night at an open forum.

DeKALB — A forum held by the administration addressed students’ concerns with the Title IX complaint process. Some students said they were dissatisfied with the forum.

Title IX Office, Administration hold open forum

Alondra Rodriguez, junior nonprofit and NGO studies and Spanish major, (left) comforts Jazmin Castro, sophomore political science major, Monday night at an open forum on the Title IX process.

At 5 p.m. Monday in the Regency Room of the Holmes Students Center, administration from various resource offices across campus met with students to discuss current policies and procedures regarding Title IX.

Speaking at the forum was Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael, Office of the Dean of Students Kelly Olson, Title IX Coordinator Sarah Garner, Director of Student Conduct Jeanne Meyer, Sergeant of Investigations Larry Ellington and NIU’s Chief of Police Thomas Phillips.

Present at the event were a number of students and representatives of campus resource offices. These included the Division of Student Affairs, Student Advocacy, Police and Public Safety, Title IX and Student Conduct.

Students asked about NIU’s lack of rape kits on campus, a perceived lack of communication toward different services available and the mechanisms of reporting an incident through Title IX.

Students shared their experiences of filing reports through the Title IX Office. They voiced concerns about slow response times, limited staffing, low availability of student advocates and partiality of individual case workers.

Students expressed concern that the administration’s participation in the forum was in reaction to discontent expressed by those undergoing the reporting process, rather than actively pursuing change.

Title IX Office, Administration hold open forum

Cassandra Kamp, president of Active Minds NIU, raises her hand Monday night at an open forum on the Title IX process.

Cassandra Kamp, president of Active Minds, an organization promoting mental health awareness, said she didn’t feel the forum to be driven toward representing all concerns.

“This feels like a reactive type of forum instead of a proactive forum informing us about Title IX,” Kamp said.

In response, Wesener Michael said the administration has certain policies to address students’ concerns. 

She said calling a forum of this type is part of that policy.

“We’ve fallen into this way that we want to address students,” Wesener Michael said. “Our response is: ‘Let’s talk about it.’ Sometimes [students’] concerns come out of misunderstanding.”

Wesener Michael said the forum is part of ongoing efforts to incorporate student feedback into policy changes.

“We felt it was important we address these issues and also have a conversation about what we can do as an institution,” Wesener Michael said “We have a ways to go, and we know that.”

Wesener Michael said Title IX will be reviewing and updating current policies and procedures over the summer.

Title IX Office, Administration hold open forum

Sarah Garner, acting director of the Title IX office, responds to various concerns regarding the Title IX process and lack of rape kits on campus during Monday night’s forum held in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center.

Rose Henton, director of coordinated education, training and outreach programs, said this endeavor will see administration hold monthly meetings to develop a strategic plan. She said NIU received a grant from the Campus Program to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus, administered by the Office on Violence Against Women through the U.S. Department of Justice to review and update procedures.

The grant allocated $300,000 to the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to combat sexual assault on campus and better present services to victims of assault, stalking and domestic violence, according to a Sept. 19 article from NIU Today.

She said student feedback will be needed throughout this process to better understand how to implement an intended strategic plan moving forward.

“We’re hoping to strengthen our programs and make them more robust,” Henton said. “Students can send us an email and say, ‘This is the part I want to be involved in,’ because we need students on our committees, because we need to know what [students] are looking at.”

During the forum, various representatives of resource offices explained their role in the Title IX report process.

Students said they felt this was intended to run out the clock and reduce the amount of time allotted for students to speak.

Title IX Office, Administration hold open forum

Jazmin Castro embraces Sandra Puebla at Monday night’s Title IX held in the Regency Room.

Administrators and students then decided to seek a different approach, in which students asked resource officers direct questions about their concerns with the Title IX process.

One concern was in regard to the lack of safety bulletins for sexual assaults. Students cited the University of Illinois’ practice regarding bulletins, in which the university’s police force “goes beyond legal requirements in telling our campus about public safety issues,” according to the University of Illinois’ Police Department’s website.

Tom Phillips, university chief of police, explained why.

“Sometimes, these incidents don’t meet the threshold of a security bulletin,” Phillips said.

He said deductive conclusions needed to produce the facts of a report would compromise the confidentiality required for the Title IX process.

Another concern addressed by students was the perceived lack of communication on NIU’s behalf about the availability of student advocates and outside resources like Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter.

“This is something we’re considering in how to make this process better,” Wesener Michael said. “We need to communicate these services better, so we will work on that for sure.”

The administration also announced its intention to incorporate elements of the Howard Brown Health Center’s training model for more inclusive Title IX policies. The Howard Brown Health Center is an LGBT-centered health and social service provider.

Ariel Owens, assistant director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said NIU will adopt these policies for comprehensive training standards.

“It truly aims to be a survivor-centered and holistic model,” Owens said. “Of course, this is an institution of higher education, so we can’t do everything exactly the same, but a lot of [the Gender and Sexulaity Resource Center] staff and staff from the the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are seeing what we can pull from that and make more realistic through Title IX.”

Sophomore nutrition major Fayth Springer and SA Director of Governmental Affairs Sandra Puebla were present. They had planned a protest — postponed due to poor weather — against sexual assault at MLK Commons earlier in the day. The protest will be held noon to 2 p.m. Friday at MLK Commons.

Springer said she felt her concerns about filing reports weren’t adequately addressed by administration during the forum.

“It felt like a lecture,” Springer said. “I wish there was more effort on [the administration’s] part to address this and publicize the issue.”

Jeanne Meyer, director of student conduct, said she couldn’t have more respect for the students who came forward to speak about their experiences. She said she feels the forum will be productive in developing new policies over the summer.

“I admire the courage of these survivors,” Meyer said. “To come into an open group and talk about such a difficult topic, I think it’s important to listen with support to make this process as student centered and accessible as possible.”

After the forum concluded, participants weighed in on changes to be made and their respective conclusions from the discussion itself.

Puebla said she didn’t feel the forum adequately represented students’ perspectives or reach a large enough audience.

“Honestly, the way this forum was introduced was unproductive,” Puebla said. “[The administration] should’ve released a mass email because that’s their main point of contact with students. If this is such a concern for them and they wanted to gain the feedback of students, they should’ve made a conscious effort to contact more students.”

She also said she didn’t feel much confidence in the Title IX policy review process that will be undertaken over the summer.

However, Puebla said she has confidence in students continuing to present their concerns in the year to come.

“I was really happy to see all the students enraged by this process here tonight,” Puebla said. “I’m very hopeful the students will carry out these demands and continue to advocate for themselves because it’s clear the university and the student body has a disconnect.”

Updated 8:00 p.m. Wednesday