On Thursday, May 1, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 schools under investigation for possible Title IX violations regarding the handling of sexual assaults on campus; Wittenberg, amongst other, bigger schools such as Ohio State University, is on the list.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, an institution’s presence on the list “in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.”
Furthermore, Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, stated that the Department wanted to make this list available to “spur community dialogue about this important issue.”
The announcement follows a visit to Wittenberg by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on April 16 and 17. The visit encouraged group and individual discussions with students regarding Title IX and sexual harassment.
According to Casey Gill, dean of students and campus coordinator for Title IX, the federal agency looked for input from representatives of every facet of the campus community.
“The purpose of the OCR focus groups is to verify student knowledge of University policies and procedures,” said Gill. The visit to campus was part of the organization’s investigation procedures.
But what exactly is being investigated? Public records show that Wittenberg has an open case from August 25, 2011, as well as another from April 18, 2013. However, in compliance with University and OCR policy, Gill said that “Wittenberg cannot give details about individual complaints or the investigation of those complaints.”
“I think it is important to note that Wittenberg has continually updated its responses to the way it investigates sexual misconduct and harassment in recent years according to best practices,” said Krystal Reeb, director of student conduct and deputy Title IX coordinator. “Wittenberg University continued to update our policies and procedures annually and train students on sexual assault and bystander intervention in hopes to maintain a safe community.”
Donna Picklesimer, former director of business services, was Wittenberg’s previous Title IX Coordinator until she was let go from the University several months ago.
The student organization, No Woman Left Behind, is one group on campus that is interested in maintaining a safe community and spreading information concerning sexual assault. According to its bio, No Woman Left Behind is a “bystander intervention program.”
“An investigation is long overdue,” said Stacy Jacobs, co-president of No Woman Left Behind. “I feel that there is not enough education amongst the student body.”
However, other students have commended the University for its efforts regarding sexual assault prevention. For example, the resident advisers (RAs) on campus underwent sexual assault training at the beginning of the year. “I would say that although it’s awesome RAs go through that training, the only way it can be more effective is if more students were to go through some sort of training and education on sexual assault,” said Mellissa Hummel, an RA in Ferncliff. “There are only so many RAs but if every student was exposed to and educated on these issues, they would likely be reported more and maybe even occur less.”
Late Friday evening, Wittenberg President Laurie Joyner sent an email to campus in which she said, “maintaining an open dialogue on these issues is critically important, and I encourage you to reach out to me or our student life team with any concerns you have related to your own experience here.”