The hiring process for a Title IX coordinator is still in progress nearly five months after Laura Cutway’s June departure, with one round of interviews, including a student panel, complete.
Student leaders and administrators say the appointment may not take place until the spring semester, leaving the university without a Title IX coordinator for at least seven months. Samantha Berner has served as interim Title IX coordinator, in addition to continuing in her role as Title IX investigator, since Cutway left the position unannounced.
“On average, the process to recruit, interview, hire, and onboard highly qualified higher education leaders in roles that require expertise can last between 6-12 months,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Title IX Coordinator is critical to Georgetown’s efforts addressing sexual assault and misconduct and the university is committed to finding a highly qualified individual to serve our campus community.”
Given the timeline so far, remaining interviews, deliberations and the hiring process could potentially push the official start of a new Title IX coordinator to spring, according to Kory Stuer (COL ’19), who served on the student panel.
As part of the daylong interview process for each candidate, which took place throughout October, a panel of five to six mostly undergraduate students convened to conduct hourlong interviews.
“Student voices are imperative in shaping how our campus community addresses sexual assault and misconduct,” Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for institutional diversity and equity, wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Undergraduate and graduate student leaders who actively engage on these issues are providing valuable input and feedback during the interviewing and hiring process.”
The student leaders chosen were from the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Advisory Committee, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, the Georgetown University Student Association, Georgetown University Graduate Student Government and other groups that engage on issues that the Title IX office handles, according to the university spokesperson.
Some students were chosen for the interview panel based on recommendation from administrators and because of their leadership positions on campus, but not for their knowledge of sexual misconduct policy and climate at Georgetown, Stuer said.
“Multiple students did not know why they were chosen. They had practically no knowledge of sexual assault policy at Georgetown,” Stuer said. “While everyone was a leader on campus, and I mean no disrespect to anyone who was on the panel, people literally didn’t know why they were there.”
The students were given evaluation forms for each of the candidates that they filled out and submitted to Kilkenny about a week after interviews, according to Stuer, Cindy Tran (COL ’20) and Grace Perret (COL ’20), who all served on the panel.
Tran, a member of the provost’s advisory committee for diversity, was invited by Kilkenny to serve on the student panel for evaluating candidates for the position. The lack of any guidance from the administration made her unsure how the university would take her evaluations of the candidates into account, she said.
“Personally, the way that affects me and how I view the process, is one: Is the student input actually something they take into consideration?” Tran said. “Are they having us interview, or is it something they use to say, ‘Well, we did have student panelists interviewing but actually don’t consider any of their input’?”
Other than students, campus organizations and groups involved in the process include faculty and staff members from the Women’s Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center, Health Education Services, the Georgetown University Police Department’s Sexual Assault Response Team, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, deputy Title IX coordinators, the Office of Student Conduct, and the Office of the General Counsel, a university spokesperson said.
The interviews followed a Sept. 20 meeting between administrators and five students: Stuer, Daria Crawford (COL ’20), Avery Moje (COL ’19), Andy Turner (SFS ’20) and Susu Zhao (COL ’19), who had published a letter Aug. 31 demanding action from the university on several issues relating to sexual misconduct on campus.
The letter, addressed to Kilkenny, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Assistant Vice President for Student Health Dr. Vince WinklerPrins, calls for increased transparency and speed in the hiring process for the Title IX coordinator position, among other demands.
Kilkenny, Olson and WinklerPrins committed during the meeting to update the campus community about the lack of a distinct Title IX coordinator and the progress of the search, according to Moje, Stuer and Zhao. There has been no update at the time of publication.
“I think that students must be informed of the position’s vacancy and the search for a new coordinator because of the [vitalness] of the Title IX Office’s role in supporting students who have been assaulted while at Georgetown,” Moje wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Despite their involvement in anti-sexual misconduct advocacy and work as a SAPE facilitator on campus, Stuer said their own difficulty understanding and navigating Georgetown’s policies indicates how the system can be a barrier to students who are less informed.
“Even as we, as students who have been involved in this work for years and have spent much of our Georgetown careers thinking about this, we struggle to navigate these systems,” Stuer said. “So what does that mean for the freshmen?”
Two other requests made in the Aug. 31 letter, including the formation of a Coordinated Community Response Team and the release of updates from the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Advisory Committee, were addressed in a Nov. 2 email update to the Georgetown community.
Georgetown is one of a small group of universities employing a full-time Title IX coordinator, which began Jan. 11, 2016, with Cutway’s hiring. The role was previously part of Kilkenny’s duties as vice president for institutional diversity and equity.
Cutway’s departure was never publicly announced to the community.
In the 2016-17 school year, 161 reports of sexual misconduct were made to the Title IX office. Reports have been rising in recent years, consistent with national trends.
At nearby universities, staff recruitment for Title IX offices has been met with varying degrees of success. While American University replaced its Title IX coordinator within two months of the previous coordinator’s departure, The George Washington University has seen a high turnover rate for staff in its Title IX office in previous years.
Stuer said their overarching hope is that the university will be transparent about staffing in the Title IX office given upcoming changes to related federal law.
“The fact that we’re getting toward six months and the university still hasn’t told the student body that we don’t have a Title IX coordinator anymore is a problem, especially as we’re expecting new rules from the Department of Education that are expected to completely overhaul Title IX,” Stuer said.