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Examining the Title IX process at St. Olaf

After the posts about sexual misconduct on the St. Olaf Flirts and hurts Facebook pages, many students are questioning the Title IX process. The Title IX office has been working on multiple programs as well as preparing for updated regulations from the President Joe Biden administration.

Title IX is a federal gender equality law that often deals with cases of sexual misconduct. Students who have been victims of sexual misconduct can go to the Title IX office to find resources or start an investigation. Depending on the level of investigation, also known as a grievance process, victims can have a no-contact directive, a mediated conversation with the perpetrator, and more. The outcomes of the grievance process heavily depends on what the victim is comfortable with.

Director of Title IX and Equal Opportunity Kari Hohn said that this semester has been particularly busy for the Title IX office. The office is experiencing higher reporting numbers and noticing more cases of extreme depression and anxiety in students. The Title IX office is planning educational events for faculty and staff to learn more about the Title IX process and how to support students.

However, the recent campus discussions about sexual misconduct, especially the posts from the now-deleted St. Olaf Hurts page, have brought up concerns about the Title IX process and how students are supported.

Biden is releasing new Title IX regulations in May, 2022. The current regulations force reporting parties to submit a hearing and cross examination as part of the investigation process, and Hohn anticipates that Biden’s regulations will do away with this requirement. “We know how onerous the current investigation process is on students,” Hohn said.

Students might be encouraged to submit a Title IX report with these new regulations, but there are many options for students who do not want to approach Title IX but want support after experiencing sexual misconduct. There are also more preventative projects being introduced to campus that hope to reduce the amount of sexual misconduct on campus.

The Wellness Center is working on implementing sexual assault training called Expect Respect, run mostly by Associate Director of Wellness and Health Promotions, Jenny Ortiz. The Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) hosts events and support groups for students who experience sexual assault. The Consent and Sexual Respect Initiative, a group of staff including Hohn and Ortiz, meets every other week to discuss and plan other preventative and educational events.

Hohn said that students who are victims of sexual misconduct are first and foremost encouraged to talk to confidential campus resources, such as SARN, friends, and family. The Healing Outreach Prevention Education Center also offers direct support of victims in Rice County. Victims of sexual assault should also receive a medical forensic exam within 10 days of the assault. The exam would not initiate any investigation, but having the evidence on file greatly helps if action is considered at a later time.

However, if a student does approach Title IX and feels concerned about their case, the Title IX advisory group, run by Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Jodi Malmgren, is separate from the Title IX office and provides a platform for students who have concerns about their Title IX report. The advisory group also records data and publishes an annual report for the office of Title IX.

Most importantly, Hohn said she is “really concerned” about the vigilante justice posts on St. Olaf Hurts. “While I understand the desire to publicly ‘out’ someone as being harmful in an effort to protect others, I worry that type of response creates more potential harm than it solves,” Hohn said.

Instead of participating in these harmful social media posts, Hohn recommends that students attend educational events, support survivors on campus, refrain from spreading information about a case of sexual misconduct without the survivor’s permission, and learn about sexual assault resources on campus.

While the Title IX process can be daunting for some students, Hohn has hope that students are growing more comfortable sharing their experiences with her. Although the Title IX office has experienced an increase in cases this year, the higher numbers do not necessarily indicate higher incident rates. ​​”We view this as an indicator that many students are trusting our reporting process,” Hohn said.

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