Two candidates speak on Title IX

Category:  News
Thursday, April 11th, 2019 at 9:28 AM
Two candidates speak on Title IX by Livia Homerski & Shayma Musa
Photo: Ben McCullough

Edinboro University hosted two open forums, one on Monday, April 1, and the other on Thursday, April 4, in order to allow for an open dialogue between the campus community and the two prospective candidates for the university’s Title IX coordinator position. 

According to Edinboro Communications Director Angela Burrows, the position for Title IX coordinator opened in October of 2018, when the previous coordinator and social equity director, Ron Wilson, left EU for the University of Arizona. 

Title IX had previously been under the domain of the Office for Social Equity, however with the hiring of Chief Diversity Officer Terrance Mitchell, social equity has retained its own identity, and Title IX is now its own office. 

The talks come as the university recently released its annual fire and safety report. Among other things, this report included statistics on sexual violence and domestic violence on campus. According to this report, there were 12 total cases of rape that occurred in on-campus facilities between 2015-2017. Additionally, nine total cases of rape were reported in on-campus residential facilities between 2015-2017. 

The following is a description of each candidate’s stances on numerous topics as gathered from the open forums. 

 

Michael Pierce

The first candidate for Edinboro’s Title IX coordinator position to come on campus was Michael Pierce. Pierce graduated from Duquesne University with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, and he graduated from Stetson University College of Law in Florida with a degree in law. 

Pierce worked for several years as an attorney before entering higher education. He has experience in Title IX from his time at New College of Florida, as general counsel and secretary for the institution. The forum was attended by various faculty members, along with Interim Edinboro University President Michael Hannan, Communications Director Angela Burrows, and other members of the administration. 

Several questions were asked by members of this audience. One question inquired about the challenges that Pierce had to face in his previous role. He responded: “There is no such thing as an ‘unchallenging’ Title IX issue. By virtue of the thing that happened, it’s going to be bad. You’re going to hear things. Nothing is going to be simple. My experience with it has been in a compliance role. The hardest part for me is on appeal, when a decision has been made and someone feels like it’s the wrong decision. Then not only do you have to sit through the process that got them there, [but] then you have to sit down and talk to them about why you might not agree, why they might no longer be a student here, and what that means for them both professionally and personally.” 

Another question asked of Pierce was about his experience with athletes. 

“Inherently, the process will be different for student-athletes than it is for any other student. They live differently than any other student. They have different demands on their time. They have study hall to get through, and other things to do from a NCAA standpoint that non-athletes aren’t doing. So, the process must look different for student-athletes. So that’s the juggling act that I’ve been working with now in my current role. Without revising the entire code of conduct so that athletes are treated differently, but in a way that it is not going to be discriminatory to other students. No benefit is conferred to the athlete, but so that it accommodates to the athlete. So that everyone is looked at with due process,” Pierce said. 

Other topics discussed during the open forum with Pierce included his experience training others in Title IX rules, accessibility of knowledge regarding the policies, and his experience using online reporting and case tracking software. 

 

Jyl Shaffer

On Thursday, April 4, an open forum was held for Jyl Shaffer, another of the potential candidates for Edinboro’s Title IX Coordinator position. Shaffer is a PASSHE graduate; she received her bachelor’s of history from Clarion University, a master’s in conflict management from Lipscomb University, and a master’s in Native American studies from Montana University-Bozeman. 

Shaffer began her career working for a Pennsylvania state representative for several years, and she has 15 years total working with and for victims of sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence. In 2011, Shaffer began in campus-based civil rights work and has worked as a Title IX investigator and coordinator at four other universities.

She is enthused to have an opportunity to return to Northwest Pennsylvania where she grew up and have the potential to give back to the community. “Being a graduate from the PASSHE system, to me, I feel that rural communities should be taking the lead nationally when it comes to creating equitable environments,” said Shaffer. She then noted that rural communities like Edinboro has been doing the work, and although it’s not always recognized, it is still important. 

Six questions were asked by various audience members. The first question dealt with whether Shaffer has looked at the EU Title IX webpage and what she thought of it. Shaffer said that she would like to know whether it is ADA compliant and accessible, to which the audience member replied that it is in the process of renewing its compliance. Shaffer said she thinks it’s a good foundation, but is lacking some information. She also said that she would like feedback from alumni, locals and parents on whether they think the website is easy to navigate. 

She was then asked what she felt were some of the biggest challenges regarding the evolution of Title IX and pending changes. Shaffer has noticed that over the past few years, attention to Title IX has gone down on campuses. The federal government has also not been prioritizing Title IX, according to Shaffer, and has not been investigating whether institutions are running their programs correctly. Shaffer described the dilemma as a “sink or swim moment.” She asked: “Are we gonna see schools say ‘yep, this matters because we see the value and see what it matters to our community,’ or, are we gonna see this pushed back behind the million other things the school has to deal with?”  

Shaffer also described the challenge of terminology. Policy and compliance definitions can be much different than definitions on the internet, so there must be more conversations about what those are. 

The job of a Title IX coordinator is also to be a neutral party in investigations, and many in the position struggle with balancing support for the students through activities like “Denim Day” for example, and maintaining their promise to neutrality and protection of the institution. “I would question whether it’s a conflict of interest for the Title IX coordinator to put on an event that focuses on believing survivors, not because we don’t believe, but because, how do I then say that I am a disinterested party?” explained Shaffer.  

The next question asked was whether Shaffer has looked at EU’s Title IX handbook and what she thinks of it. Shaffer stated that she has and has multiple concerns about the handbook because it “violates the law in a couple of ways.” She explained that it goes back on itself, and she doesn’t find it to be a tool to help students because it isn’t accessible and easy to understand. 

“The policy needs to think about the town it lives in and how people in Edinboro would read that policy and feel like, ‘OK, I would know what to do if something happened to me or my family member when they were at the university,’” said Shaffer. 

The Spectator then asked about Shaffer’s experience in training Title IX groups. She stated that she has trained her own staff, investigators, partners, and other administrators on the campuses that she’s worked on, as well as other universities. She’s also trained on a national level with the Association of Title IX Administrators. 

Then the concept of “the race to the Title IX office” was brought up and how Shaffer has dealt with that in her work with Montana State University. The “race to the Title IX office” is when an incident occurs and both parties involved try to make their case before the other one does. Shaffer stated that with every case, she finds it important to ask the student what they want from the process and how far they are willing to pursue the case. She also stated that having a clear policy and procedure helps streamline and prevent cases with counter-claims. 

The Spectator then asked the last question of the forum. During research for a recent article about how the Title IX process works, it was stated that all faculty and staff on the campus are mandatory reporters. In Edinboro’s current policy however, if a mandatory reporter fails to report, there are little to no repercussions other than being reminded of that duty to report. We asked what Shaffer thought of that and whether she would handle that differently. 

Shaffer stated that she would be willing to hold those accountable who do not fulfill their obligation to the policy. She also stated that from reviews of the previous year’s report, the Lawroom Training for reporting didn’t seem to be all that effective. So, when it comes to training people to handle Title IX related disclosures, her goal is to “make sure that that person feels safe, they feel supported, and they can walk away and say ‘Edinboro cares about me.’” 

Shaffer also made the point that some faculty members might also be survivors and not quite prepared to handle traumatic situations that bring back their own memories, so she understands if a faculty member might not be able to report because of that. Shaffer would just like to know so they can work around that issue. 

The final point Shaffer made is that all faculty must be in the know about this policy because they all can make a difference. Only believing that some faculty, specifically ones with “power,” such as professors, need to know how to handle reporting situations is “antithetical to the policy.” She explained that staff members such as a janitors or food service workers a student might see every day are just as important, so they must know how to handle reports. 

“I just think we have to work with folks individually and help figure out how to make this process work and [figure out] how we center it around the person coming to us, saying ‘I’ve been harmed,’” stated Shaffer. 

For more information about the Title IX coordinator position, contact Brenda Marquis at bmarquis@edinboro.edu.

Livia Homerski | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

Shayma Musa | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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