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May 21, 2015

Sexual Assault Awareness Week: a discussion on Title IX rights

In Stuart Hall on Tuesday, the Know Your IX organization presented an in-depth discussion about the law to prevent sex-based discrimination as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Dana Bolger, the founding co-director of Know Your IX, and Olivia Ortiz, a UChicago student, Title IX complainant against the University, and campaign coordinator at Know Your IX, led the discussion.

Know Your IX, the organization associated with both speakers, is a national student campaign founded in 2013. The organization, which is led by victims of sexual assault, seeks to educate students about sexual violence and harassment and to comfort those who have been affected. Know your IX also encourages legislative enforcement on the national level in order to establish equality and safety for students across all college campuses.

Bolger and Ortiz first led a lecture-based discussion of Title IX rights. Title IX, passed in 1972, ensures equity in all aspects of education and protects sexual assault victims of all and no genders while at the same time respecting their right to an education. According to the law, any sexual assault case should be resolved within 60 days of the report being filed, but Bolger claimed that this is often not the case at universities, including the University of Chicago.

Then they focused the talk on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of the University for Title IX violations. They discussed whether or not there have been changes in the University’s current policy and what effect these changes will have on students, faculty, and staff.

The University of Chicago was first investigated in June 2013, and then placed under a compliance review for violating Title IX rights in January 2014. If the University is found in violation, federal funding could be rescinded. So far the OCR, which enforces Title IX, is reviewing policies, staff, and individual cases.

Ortiz spoke about the lack of efficiency and specificity of sexual assault investigations at the University. “The complaint process has traditionally been focused on the institution as a whole, not individual survivors, and that really hurts survivors,” she said.

Provost Eric Isaacs has since convened committees to draft new policies this academic year. Jeremy Inabinet, who was recently named associate dean of students in the University for disciplinary affairs, investigates complaints that students have made to members of the Administration.

University spokesperson Marielle Sainvilus said that the University has also changed its sexual assault policies to increase efficiency and prevention when handling cases. “As part of an ongoing commitment to address issues of sexual misconduct, last July the University made significant changes to policy and approach on these important issues. These changes included merging and revising two existing policies addressing sexual misconduct and unlawful discrimination and joining them into a single Unlawful Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct Policy,” Sainvilus wrote in an e-mail.

The speakers stressed survivors’ rights under the Title IX statute to reasonable accommodations and services, which include counseling, tutoring, housing and course accommodations, and health services. They also noted that survivors have the right to access these services for free.

She also said that the OCR should be more timely and transparent with its approach to sexual assault cases. “Even though we have rights, it’s hard to get our rights enforced in a timely manner,” Ortiz said. In terms of transparency, she said that the University should work toward publicizing the availability of court-restrained orders and ensuring that survivors are allowed to discuss the outcomes of their complaints.

Before beginning the discussion, Student Government’s current Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees (and Vice President–elect) Alex Jung announced that the Student Government Finance Committee allocated $10,000 to Sexual Assault Awareness Week this year, and will allocate the same amount of money next year.

In addition to this meeting, SG is hosting a resource and volunteer opportunity fair in Hutchinson Courtyard, which is next to the UChicago Clothesline’s installation with Rape Victim Advocates, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, and UChicago organizations including Phoenix Survivors Alliance, Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention, and Student Counseling, along with other events this week.

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