University’s new Title IX office raises awareness

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The University of Southern Mississippi incorporated a new Title IX office to its institution this past February in an effort to take an active role against sexual misconduct.

The new office follows original policy protocols but works to make the student body more conscious of sexual misconduct. “We realize that sexual misconduct is a serious matter on university campuses nationwide,” said Paul Walters, director of the Office of Compliance and Ethics at Southern Miss.

“It is incumbent upon us to pursue every means available to a meliorate the consequences of this unlawful and demeaning conduct,” Walters said. The U.S. government’s Office of Civil Rights recent growth of Title IX has promoted educational institutions to strengthen their sexual misconduct policies. Title IX, created in 1972, grounds its purpose in eliminating discrimination and harassment against students in schools receiving financial aid from the federal government.

“This is particularly true in response to public outcry over the types of sexual misconduct occurring on college campuses and a perception of inadequate response on the part of the institutions,” said Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Malley in a press release. “Title IX is now interpreted by the federal government as encompassing, not only protection from disparate treatment based on sex, but also on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or perceptions of such,” Malley said. “It also provides protection for students based on pregnancy status.”

The Title IX Office at USM works with departments like the Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention, Human Resources and Student Counseling Services, the University Police Department to upkeep awareness of and to eliminate sexual misconduct and sex or gender-based discrimination. “We have a good process for reviewing allegations of sexual assault,” Malley said. “I believe that the guidelines for disciplinary action that are in the policy are the right way to handle a sexual assault situation.”

In 2013, the university changed its Sexual Misconduct Policy and procedure after command from the Office of Civil Rights. Currently, the protocol provides one policy and one process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct regardless of who is involved whether it be a student, staff or faculty member. “This allows consistency in investigation, adjudication and discipline for all instances of sexual misconduct,” Walters said in a press release.

The university presents a separate complaint procedure for the resolution of sexual misconduct allegations. The university’s sexual misconduct procedure begins with the Title IX coordinator receiving a complaint, then assessing the complaint to decide whether or not the information provided is sufficient enough to initiate a formal review. From there, the complaint is dismissed or a formal review is initiated and an investigation begins.

By Sept. 1, USM will implement an online training program for all university employees and students that will include modules associated with issues like sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, sexual violence, bullying, bystander intervention and alcohol and drug education.

For those without access to the Internet, trainings will be conducted in person with the same modules. It was reported that in 2013 only one case of sexual assault was fi led with UPD. In 2014, there were three reports filed. UPD encourages victims to speak up and report their cases.