As part of its push to educate the college community about Title IX, Westminster hosted a screening of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary that chronicles how sexual assault has been handled and mishandled on campuses across the country.
Hanna Lukes, a senior from Salt Lake City, said she was excited to attend the movie because it was a topic she was passionate about. She said she was glad her school was taking the initiative to address the issue in such an open way.
“I thought it was really cool that our school was taking such a progressive approach to tackling this issue,” Lukes said. “In the film we watched, they talked about the problem with most schools is that none of the schools have taken initiative.”
After the documentary, Lukes said she found out that Westminster was under investigation from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for its handling of a student’s 2013 sexual assault allegation. Lukes said the revelation confused her.
“We actually Googled it, and we’re in the list of colleges and universities that’s being investigated for Title IX,” Lukes said. “It feels like [Westminster’s] trying to tell us it’s a progressive thing.”
Lukes said that if she had known about the investigation earlier, she would have felt less like Westminster was trying to cover it up.
“They’ve talked about Title IX a lot,” she said. “I thought that they were talking about it because we’re progressive and liberal and excited about trying to conquer these big social issues. But it’s not really as authentic.”
Although students have generally welcomed the attention the school has put on Title IX issues, many said they can’t help but feel a bit cynical, as if the educational campaign is a public relations response to the investigation, not a genuine push to educate and protect the campus community.
Despite the cynicism, the administration and faculty’s efforts to educate the campus are unprecedented. From the college’s Title IX Symposium to training for faculty and staff, to statements on every syllabus, discussions about sexual assault are trending on campus.
Westminster was first notified in January 2015 that it faced a potential violation and was required to open up all the data collection and records to the OCR. The Department of Education confirmed this summer that Westminster College is under investigation for mishandling a 2013 Title IX complaint.
“As soon as we heard they’re going to make a campus visit, that’s when we started strategizing how we would announce it without it getting lost with everything else,” said Melissa Flores, Westminster’s general counsel since November 2013. “We had a presidential change in April, we had graduation in May and everyone’s gone in the summer.”
“We waited until everyone came back and things settled down a little bit from everyone getting back to school to then say, ‘Okay, we’re having an OCR visit.’ I would say it was more strategic more than anything, because we didn’t actually know if they were going to be coming,” Flores said.
No other Utah college or university is under investigation, according to the list posted by the Department of Education.
Colleges and universities under investigation in 2015 include University of Denver, Texas A&M University, American College and more, according to Know Your IX, a non-profit organization dedicated to Title IX who documents each case.
Westminster reported three forcible sex offenses on campus from 2011 to 2013, according to the records reported to the Office of Postsecondary Education under the Clery Act. The Clery act is released every three years and is required to document the reported crimes on campus, according to Know Your IX.
In comparison to other Utah universities, Westminster sits near the bottom of the list for reported forcible sex offenses on campus.
The University of Utah has the highest number in the state, with 20 forcible sex offenses reported from 2011 to 2013.
Over the same three-year period, Brigham Young University reported 19 forcible sex offenses, Utah State University reported 12, Snow College reported 2, Weber State University Ogden Campus reported 7 and Utah Valley University reported 12.
In light of these numbers and national efforts to educate college campuses, the Westminster community has been looking for ways to address the issue and get ahead of the curve rather than just reacting to events.
Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Scott Gust, praised the Title IX push.
“We need to understand all students have rights, and that we need to address those,” said Gust, who is also a deputy Title IX coordinator. “Those things are all important, and I could not agree more with the students.”
When asked why now and why students are seeing larger pushes like Title IX statements on professors’ syllabi and the handing out of purple infographic cards explaining Title IX, Gust said it’s all part of a larger national movement.
“We’re finally getting some acknowledgement that there is a crisis,” Gust said. “The answer to the question of why now is because of the national landscape shifts. It makes sense, but also I get why people are like ‘why now?’ This is a national issue, but for some of us, this is our lives every day.”
Jane Jerman, junior communication major who is on the Title IX committee board, helped lay out the Title IX Symposium and echoed Gust’s concern for the students.
“Support your students,” Jerman said. “Protect your students. Those are the ones who need to be protected.”
Jerman discussed the importance of the school supporting and being there for its students in something so delicate as Title IX.
Leah Weisgal, a public health major and president of Students for Choice, also helped plan the symposium.
“I think that the school is trying really hard to be in standard…not be just in standard but to be setting a precedent,” Weisgal said.
Weisgal said she felt Westminster was trying to lead the conversation on Title IX for campuses in Utah and the symposium was a progressive step.
“To decide that [Westminster was] going to be the resource for so many other colleges, educators, administrators and coaches and everything, Westminster is really actively taking a role in at least trying to be a steward and advocate,” she said.
Investigators are expected to be on campus from Nov. 2–6.
“I’m excited,” said Flores, Westminster’s legal counsel. “It’s a great way to check compliance. I think it’s a great way to for us to demonstrate to our students our commitment.”
However, Flores said that schools almost never come out completely unscathed after an investigation.
This test of compliance is thorough and put in place to check everything, Flores explained.
Students with questions or who want more information regarding Title IX can contact Westminster’s Title IX Coordinator and EO Compliance Officer Jason Schwartz-Johnson.