Westminster under investigation by Office for Civil Rights

Posters about the Not Alone: Title IX Symposium are all around campus, detailing the event this September that works to confront sexual, dating and domestic violence on college campuses. The symposium will also have a free screening of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival The Hunting Ground.    Photo by Catherine Blakemore

Posters about the Not Alone: Title IX Symposium are all around campus, detailing the event this September that works to confront sexual, dating and domestic violence on college campuses. The symposium will also have a free screening of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival The Hunting Ground.    Photo by Catherine Blakemore

Westminster’s campus will host federal officials from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the first week of November in response to a complaint about Westminster’s handling of a sexual assault case in 2013.

OCR will be investigating sexual assault cases involving students in the past few years, as well as determining how successful Title IX training is on Westminster’s campus.

Melissa Flores is Westminster’s general counsel and has been in her role since November of 2013.

“They are going to want to see what are we doing to train people, what are we doing to educate on our Title IX policy and practice, what are we doing to provide resources for students,” Flores said. “It’s really a compliance review, which we welcome.”

On Nov. 10, 2014, the United States’ OCR received a complaint about Westminster College’s handling of a sexual assault allegation. On Jan. 20, 2015, Westminster College received the notification of the complaint stemming from a sexual assault incident in 2013.

“With the emphasis that has been placed on preventing sexual violence on college campuses, particularly with respect to sexual assault and dating/domestic violence and stalking, OCR has made a concerted effort in the last year and a half, really, to focus on better ways to educate our students about their rights, to educate about what is prohibited conduct and to address that conduct when it manifests itself at one of our schools and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, if it does happen,” Flores said.

According to Flores, Westminster did address the case but, as alleged in the complaint, Westminster did not address it adequately.

Jason Schwartz-Johnson is the new Title IX Coordinator and EEO Compliance Officer. Schwartz-Johnson has been serving in this role on campus for four weeks.

“I have to constantly be on top of what the changes are,” Schwartz-Johnson said.

Last semester, Jane Jerman, junior communication major from Spring Creek, Nevada, became part of the committee that rewrites the policies for Westminster’s adherence to Title IX regulations.

Through the review, we are going to know that our policy is in utmost compliance. We’re going to be on the forefront of what’s happening compared to other schools in the nation.
— Jason Schwartz-Johnson, Title IX Coordinator and EO Compliance Officer

“There were students on that panel of individuals that helped rewrite that policy, which I found really amazing,” Schwartz-Johnson, Title IX coordinator, said. “I came here from The University of Illinois at Chicago and am really impressed by the knowledge that students have about Title IX, as well as their commitment to it and what it involves.”

Jerman, who is part of the Title IX committee, said that she wanted to change the outline of the Title IX policy to better serve students who were to go in and ask if there was a way for Westminster to help them with a situation they encountered.

“I started realizing that our policy was not serving students to the greatest extent that it could. I pushed really hard to get a very strong ‘Yes Means Yes’ policy in our Title IX, which is so that consent can not be construed by not speaking, body language; it would be pure verbal consent,” Jerman said.

Schwartz-Johnson, the Title IX Coordinator, said that the complaint to OCR may have been filed after the first symposium because that symposium provided the resources for the student to come forward. He hopes this year's symposium will raise awareness of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking and continue to educate people on campus on how to report and address the issues. 

“We are glad to have OCR here,” Schwartz-Johnson said. “Through the review, we are going to know that our policy is in utmost compliance. We’re going to be on the forefront of what’s happening compared to other schools in the nation.”