Pin It

'Not Invited to the Table' 

Cal Poly Humboldt's Title IX reform team lacks representation from survivor-forward organizations, diverse voices

click to enlarge As a part of a California State University systemwide audit, an outside law firm conducted days of interviews at all 23 campuses, including Cal Poly Humboldt.

File photo

As a part of a California State University systemwide audit, an outside law firm conducted days of interviews at all 23 campuses, including Cal Poly Humboldt.

Cal Poly Humboldt will soon begin implementing recommendations from a Title IX audit in an effort to improve campus investigations into sexual assault and discrimination cases. A group of 10 students, faculty and staff are tasked with informing how recommendations should be fulfilled in their respective areas of campus. But on this team, students and faculty will have a minority voice, outnumbered by administrators three to one. Groups advocating for survivors and diversity and inclusion, meanwhile, won't have a voice at all.

The campus' Sexual Assault Prevention Committee is concerned that survivor-forward organizations and other diverse voices were left off the implementation team, as committee Co-Chair Maxwell Schnurer recently expressed in a formal letter to the university's Academic Senate.

"The choice to skip over the leadership of the Sexual Assault Prevention Committee, California Faculty Association, [Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion] and the cultural centers after repeated recommendations that these groups be included is a shame," Schnurer said in a letter. "Although not invited to the table this time, we continue to work to prevent moments of harm in our community."

The law firm Cozen O'Connor conducted a systemwide California State University- investigation into Title IX and came away with five core findings. The first is that the current infrastructure is lacking, referring to understaffed offices and inadequate record-keeping systems. The second core finding is that prevention and education training required of all staff and students is not enough. Third, the audit found there is no consistent process for reporting, resolving, documenting or tracking "other conduct of concern," with anything brought to a Title IX office's attention that does not amount to a policy violation often left unaddressed. The fourth finding was a lack of accountability throughout the system, with no formal standards, processes for implementing systemwide policy, or quality control and assurance in place. The fifth key finding is a trust gap exists across all CSU campuses.

On Humboldt's campus, this fifth finding bubbled into public view when the Academic Senate passed a resolution in support of survivors. The resolution charged that university President Tom Jackson Jr.'s comments during a fall welcome address last year that Title IX was designed to keep allegations of misconduct behind closed doors led to "additional harm and a feeling of distrust." The Senate heard from faculty members who described a "culture of fear" and expressed fear of retaliation for speaking out. The resolution acknowledged those feelings of distrust "may lead survivors to choose not to report harm out of concern for retaliation or a belief that nothing would come from reporting."

University Title IX Coordinator and implementation team lead David Hickcox said Humboldt's campus is at an advantageous starting point to implement the findings.

Of the five major findings for the CSU, Hickcox said he believes the campus has work to do on the first three: infrastructure, prevention education and "conduct of other concern." But the other two findings, a trust gap from the campus community to administrators and a lack of accountability in formal resolutions, are issues to be solved at the CSU level, not on Cal Poly Humboldt's campus, he said.

"Well, we increased our Title IX office from one to three [employees] back in 2020, and that's something President Jackson did before Title IX was even in the news, and he gets very little credit for that, but he did it," Hickcox said.

He explained the Chancellor's Office recommended an increase in staffing in 2020 when the Title IX/Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Prevention office was operating under just one administrator.

When it comes to the makeup of the current implementation team, the CSU tasked Jackson, like his colleagues across the CSU system, with forming a team of students, faculty, staff stakeholders and university Title IX and DHR staff to apply Cozen O'Connor's campus-specific recommendations.

"The implementation team was chosen to represent a cross-section of campus," Hickcox said, noting the selection was based on finding representation from specific organizations and areas on campus and not necessarily choosing experts in the field. "We needed academic affairs and senate, human resources, someone from the president's admin team, Associated Students, residence life and housing, enrollment management, athletics, Title IX and risk. Those were the big areas we needed representation, and we got them."

The CSU did not require university presidents to form teams using this criteria, and implementation teams vary in size and makeup across the system. California State University at Bakersfield has just four members on its team, for example, while administrators make up half of Cal State East Bay's. Several campuses assigned staff from diversity centers and student aid programs, along with professors from relevant academic fields, like gender studies and psychology.

Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State East Bay included at least two students who were not affiliated with administrative duties like Associated Students, a student government that works to fund and operate campus programs, while its president also acts as the student representative on the university president's advisory board.

When asked why Humboldt's team has less student representation, Hickcox said it's because students are hard to schedule around.

"Students tend to be the busiest of all of us," he said. "With respect to scheduling, they tend not to be available between eight and five because they've got school, jobs and studying to do; and any time you've got more than two to three students, it gets really hard to schedule."

Hickcox said the team intends to work with SAPC, Associated Students and the Academic Senate to brief the organizations on the implementation progress and field questions.

"I see SAPC as a peer organization with the Campus Implementation Team, and they're going to inform our work going forward," he said. "And they don't have to be involved as a sitting member to do this work."

The Title IX/DHR office is tasked with serving as an objective agency to investigate and resolve allegations of misconduct on campus. According to Amanda LeBlanc, the executive director of the North Coast Rape Crisis Team, which operates Cal Poly Humboldt's Campus Advocate Team, the Title IX office's objective position disallows it from taking a survivor-forward approach. But the implementation team is not held to the same objective standard, and other campuses included representation from campus survivor support centers, offices of diversity, equity and inclusion, and often more than one faculty member.

"Title IX cannot be survivor-centered — they have to be neutral," LeBlanc said. However, she added, "You can't change culture without understanding harm. One of the roles of survivor advocacy organizations is to have that lens and bring it into conversations. When you don't have the partnership of allies and survivors in the room when you're talking about justice or accountability for the perpetrators, that lens tends to get lost."

Ollie Hancock (they/them) is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach them at (707) 442-1400, extension 317, or [email protected].

Pin It



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

About The Author

Ollie Hancock

Latest in News

Readers also liked…

  • Through Mark Larson's Lens

    A local photographer's favorite images of 2022 in Humboldt
    • Jan 5, 2023
  • 'To Celebrate Our Sovereignty'

    Yurok Tribe to host gathering honoring 'ultimate river warrior' on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that changed everything
    • Jun 8, 2023


Facebook | Twitter

© 2023 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation