Student groups such as H*yas for Choice and Students of Georgetown, Inc., commonly known as The Corp, and dozens of individuals demanded the university publicly address the current lack of a full-time dedicated Title IX coordinator in a letter addressed to university administration circulated this week.
Samantha Berner currently serves as both the Title IX investigator and the interim Title IX coordinator, a role she filled after the first full-time Title IX Coordinator Laura Cutway left her role, unannounced to students, in late June.
A nationwide search for a new Title IX coordinator began in July, and finalists for the position are visiting campus in upcoming weeks, according to a university spokesperson.
Daria Crawford (COL ’20), Avery Moje (COL ’19), Kory Stuer (COL ’19), Andy Turner (SFS ’20) and Susu Zhao (COL ’19), authored the letter, which urges the university to fill the vacant coordinator position by Nov. 1 and to update the student body on its progress on the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Task Force 2017 recommendations, which includes long term and short term approaches to prevent sexual assault on campus.
The letter also asks the university to provide a public response to the letter by Sept. 14.
The letter, addressed to Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action Rosemary Kilkenny, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Assistant Vice President for Student Health Vince WinklerPrins, was posted on Facebook and emailed to administrators Aug. 31.
“While we appreciate Ms. Berner’s dedication to the community, making one person do two demanding jobs is not only unfair to her but also to the students who have a legal right to a full and functioning Title IX office,” the letter reads.
Cutway was named the university’s first full-time Title IX coordinator Jan. 11, 2016, to enforce the university’s sexual misconduct policy, investigate sexual misconduct and lead the school’s sexual misconduct education efforts.
The authors outlined three demands in the letter, all aimed at increasing transparency about the currently vacant Title IX position.
“We don’t need to know this information. The community needs to know this information,” Stuer said in an interview with The Hoya.
In response to the letter, administrators are meeting with the authors in the coming weeks to discuss their demands, and potential future steps.
Kilkenny noted that Title IX compliance does not require an employee to be dedicated to the role of investigator nor coordinator.
“While many institutions meet the federal requirement by making Title IX compliance one of several issues in a staff member’s portfolio, Georgetown had demonstrated its commitment to this position by hiring its first full-time Title IX Coordinator in 2016,” Kilkenny said in a statement to The Hoya. “We’ve also taken the extra step of hiring a separate full-time Title IX investigator.”
The letter was written after the authors learned about Cutway’s departure through word of mouth.
H*yas for Choice reposted the letter Aug. 31, and The Corp did the same Sept. 5.
“We shared the letter to call attention to the understaffing of the office and hope that the university will take the necessary steps to ensure its functionality,” The Corp wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
Those who shared the letter emphasized their primary concern was the lack of transparency regarding the position.
“As an organization that promotes safe and healthy sex between consenting adults, we are concerned by the lack of a functioning Title IX office with a full-time Title IX Coordinator to ensure a safe environment and protections for sexual assault survivors on campus,” Elianna Schiffrick (SFS ’21), communications co-chair for H*yas for Choice, wrote in an email on behalf of the organization. “Further, we are dismayed by the lack of transparency displayed by the University regarding an issue that so directly concerns and affects the student body.”
For Turner, hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator is crucial especially now, as over 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur between August and November, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
The likely high volume of instances of sexual misconduct could make adequately addressing cases brought to the Office of Title IX Compliance more difficult, Turner said.
“We’re now in the period known as “the red zone,” which is the time about 50 percent of sexual assaults occur — between August and November,” Turner said. In the coming months, “there will be more reports coming in, and we just don’t believe that one person can adequately function in those two jobs.”
The circulated letter comes after the New York Times reported that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, plans to release Title IX guidelines that would narrow the definition of sexual harassment, expand the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct and limit institutional liability.
The Georgetown University Student Association published a separate letter Sept. 4 to address the anticipated Title IX guideline updates.
“We, the undersigned, urge Georgetown University President John DeGioia and University administrators to recommit to their statement released last September in response to the interim guidance and clarify to the student body any specific steps the University will take in response to any new guidance,” according to the letter.
Grace Perret (COL ‘20), GUSA sexual assault and student safety policy chair, noted the current political context makes holding campus leaders accountable even more relevant today.
“We need all of Georgetown’s sexual assault prevention services functioning at their best capacity because these changes make survivors even more vulnerable and less likely to use those services than they already were,” Perret wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Kilkenny and other administrators will be meeting with the authors of the letter to discuss next steps, she said.
“We have received this letter and are in contact with the students to arrange a meeting, update them on our progress and discuss our shared commitment to addressing sexual misconduct,” Kilkenny said in a statement. “Combatting sexual misconduct requires robust collaboration throughout our community and we are encouraged to see continued engagement from students.”