Title IX coordinator speaks about university procedures

in News/SCSU News by

Growing up, Ellyn Bartges, Title IX compliance coordinator, said that all she really knew about the Title IX legislation passing was that it meant she could play sports in high school.

“It’s 37 words,” she said at Thursday night’s Student Government meeting. “This legislation has eradicated that sort of narrow thinking,” she said, explaining that men and women should have access to what they’re interested in.

“It’s not just about collegiate access to education,” she said. According to the Department of Justice, Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

Since 1972, more than 1,500 Dear Colleague Letters have been sent concerning issues around educational opportunities, she said. Through these letters, things like sexual harassment, rape and stalking have been centralized themes, she explained.

“It really changed the landscape of Title IX,” Bartges said. “We immediately went to training and to get an organization together to address this.”

In April 2011, St. Cloud State began training and educating people on campus around the legislation.

Before moving into the university’s procedures around Title IX, Bartges talked about the significance of the Clery Act at public institutions. The act mandates institutions that receive federal financial aid services to report crime on campus. With the report, the act requires institutions to notify people of occurrences in the area.

“Those timely warnings are very important,” she said, explaining that before the act was implemented, it wasn’t always easy to notify people about crimes or similar situations.

“There are 11 mandated items that we’re supposed to do,” she said, located in Student Code of Conduct, along with definitions of certain offenses, including sexual harassment.

“The definitions are important because they lay out parameters for conduct,” she said.

One of the 11 items requires the institution to have sexual violence training and prevention, Bartges explained, and with that comes bystander intervention techniques and how to recognize abusive behavior.

You’re in the residence halls, she said giving a hypothetical scenario, and you hear people yelling and screaming, “What do you do?” she asked. “Do you report it?”

“It’s a long upward climb for some people,” she said. Being a bystander and knowing how to react in that situation varies from person to person, she said.

In situations like this, Bartges said Residential Life works to provide a safe space for students, while offering training for situations like the scenario described. There are also campaigns to help educate St. Cloud State faculty and staff too, she said.

Keeping education and scenarios in mind, Bartges said the university pays attention to what happens in other parts of the country, naming off colleges across the nation, including Pennsylvania State, the University of California-Berkley and Yale.

“There are a lot of people out there that have been exposed to incidents that are upsetting and cause trauma,” she said. “We try to pay attention to that.”

Along with attention from media organizations, she said television shows, specifically crime shows, often talk or have fictional cases involving Title IX.

“But,” she continued. “It’s not always portrayed the way SCSU applies it…It’s not accurate.”

As the coordinator, she’s responsible for how the university responses to situations in collaboration with campus and city organizations, including Residential Life, the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Public Safety and St. Cloud Hospital.

For people filing a complaint, Bartges explained that complaints can be taken to Public Safety, the Campus Area Police Services (CAPS) officers or the St. Cloud Police Department. Complaints can also be in writing.

When a complaint is received, a summary is written about the situation. From there, an investigation follows to see if the needs of the people involved have been met. Depending on others who are involved in the situation and the information provided, the timeline of the investigation varies from case to case.

“Document, document, document,” she explained, adding that more information can help in the investigation. “Don’t delete any sort of paper trail, including in print and online.”

In the past, she said she’s seen cases pick up only to be dropped off soon after. Then, after a few months, the case picks up again when the people involved are ready. “We don’t force them to participate,” she said.

Typically the Department of Justice monitors Title IX cases, but on a local level, MnSCU will provide legal assistance if a case opens, she said. As the designated employee of the university, Bartges also assigns the case when complaints come in.

“We want our people to feel safe,” she said, especially when it comes to filing complaints. She said she doesn’t want people to be deterred because of the fear of being sued.

While the report does come around to Bartges, situations can be reported to anybody. She went on to emphasize to the student government body that if somebody comes to a university employee, that person needs to know that the employee is not a confidential reporter, and it must report it to somebody higher up, like Bartges.

On campus, there are five people who are considered confidential reporters. Counselors, people who work in health services, religious representatives and licensed social workers are considered confidential reporters.

Bartges continued through her presentation, detailing the specific information that makes up the way St. Cloud State complies with the Title IX legislation, which can be found in the Student Code of Conduct, before moving onto questions and a conversation with the student government body.