Title IX has been around since 1972, but it wasn’t until 2011 that protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence were really strengthened. I’m grateful to live in a time when colleges (including Chapman) hire faculty whose specific job is to investigate Title IX cases. But the system is far from perfect, and while I know these difficult issues will not be solved overnight, there are practical changes that can be made to better the process.
Here’s one: Move the offices of those who deal with sexual assault complaints out of Argyros Forum.
Director of Student Conduct Colleen Wood’s office is located in Argyros Forum room 303. This is also the location of the Career Development Center, Civic Engagement, student government offices and is soon to be the site of a cross-cultural center. I personally have never walked into this room without seeing someone I know. If you need to meet with Wood in Argyros Forum room 303, there is no privacy in the fact that you are meeting with a woman who deals with sexual misconduct cases. This lack of privacy is enough to deter someone from reporting.
While Wood’s job as director of student conduct extends beyond the sexual misconduct category of violations, just the idea of having to pass familiar faces as you enter and leave the office may be enough to scare someone from coming forward. This applies to the other student conduct offices in Argyros Forum room 303 as well.
A 2015 study done by the Association of American Universities found that the rates of reporting sexual misconduct to campus officials or law enforcement ranged from five to 28 percent across the 27 universities studied.
People who have been sexually assaulted choose not to report for a variety of reasons. The study said the main reason students choose not to report is because they are “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult.”
Reporting is important because it can bring consequences against assailants. But sexual assault is still a stigmatized issue and it requires the utmost discretion at every level in order to encourage people to come forward.
Like Wood, Lead Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students DeAnn Yocum Gaffney’s office is in a major student walkway. It’s connected to the office of Dean of Students Jerry Price on the first floor of Argyros Forum.
Because of the office’s central location, you cannot have a meeting with Yocum Gaffney without seeing two Dean of Students assistants, in addition to anyone who waits for a meeting with Price.
To be honest, if someone sees you coming out of an office that deals with Title IX investigations, he or she is going to wonder if you are reporting or being reported. That’s enough to deter an individual who is terrified of someone finding out about their sexual assault experience from reporting.
I have sat in the chairs outside Yocum Gaffney’s office and while muffled, you can hear people when they are talking or crying in her office. When they exit her office, they are immediately confronted with whoever is sitting right there. No one should be subjected to that, which could be enough to deter someone from reporting.
I interviewed Yocum Gaffney and Wood for another article and I asked them what, if anything, they would change about the Title IX process and they both said the same thing. They want to limit the trauma a person has to go through during the reporting and investigating process.
This is a simple solution to limit a sliver of the trauma. Give the individuals some privacy. I think it would be easy to put these offices in one of the buildings or houses just off main campus where students can be discreet in their comings and goings. It works for the Student Psychological Counseling Services at 410 N. Glassell St. and it would work for Title IX employees.