Title IX podcast

Music by Joseph McDade

Grace Gorenflo: In April 2019, The Daily Nebraskan published a package with the stories of several complainants from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Title IX office. After publication, readers showed that they were frustrated with Title IX, the federal statute that dictates how federally funded universities across the country must conduct investigations related to discrimination and sexual misconduct. They didn’t appreciate how the statute was applied at UNL.

After receiving feedback from the community and emails from survivors with their own stories of sexual misconduct, The Daily Nebraskan saw the need for another package to be written. This is “We’re doing everything that we can: A Title IX investigation continued.”

Hello and welcome to the first episode of Diving in with The DN. Here, we give you a behind-the-scenes look at one of The Daily Nebraskan’s investigations, detailing why the stories were chosen, what the reporting process looked like and what has come of publication. 

I’m Grace Gorenflo, assistant news editor, and today we’re going to take a look at The Daily Nebraskan’s follow-up to last year’s Title IX investigation. This part two of sorts was published on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and we took a look at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new collaborative on Title IX, as well as the jobs of the university’s victim advocate and Title IX coordinator, a few more survivor stories and data from across the Big Ten.

Joining me are senior news editor Libby Seline and assistant news editor Luna Stephens. Hi, guys.

Libby Seline and Luna Stephens: Hey.

Gorenflo: So, the three of us inherited this Title IX investigation from last year’s editors, and we’ve been working on it since May. I know, for me, it’s been quite the process figuring out how to make the investigation supplemental to last year’s work by answering some of the leftover questions, while still kind of making it our own. Something that kind of threw us a curveball during our reporting process was the announcement of UNL’s new Campuswide Collaborative on Sexual Misconduct. So, Libby, how do you think that shaped the package?

Seline: Yeah, good question. It started- so the Campuswide Collaborative was announced earlier this semester, but it wasn’t until about mid-November, I believe, that they announced, like, okay, who’s leading it, these are the different parts, these are the different members. And so, hearing about the collaborative though, that was a big step, especially because we would talk to Dear UNL, who is a group of students who are survivors and complaintaints of Title IX — different Title IX cases — and they saw it as a step forward. Of course, they thought the university could do more to improve, but they saw it as a step forward. I was like, this is really interesting, we’ll have to keep an eye on, like, where this goes. When it was announced in November, that happened to be when we were wrapping up stories. So, we kind of looked at each other, I feel like, and we were like, yeah, we need to write about this, too, this needs to be a new centerpiece for the investigation. So we pulled that together, addressed the concerns of survivors who felt like they didn’t have a voice in the collaborative and talked to ASUN, the student government, about where- how they will be involved in it as well. But yeah. It was just kinda- it showed that UNL was attempting to make improvements.

Gorenflo: For sure. And, I think, as far as picking other stories for our follow-up, it really helped that we had some readers reach out to us directly at our investigations@dailynebraskan.com email wanting to tell their stories as survivors of sexual assault. So, you both wrote a survivor story, so how were those for the two of you?

Stephens: I felt like it was a pretty powerful experience to, like, interview a survivor and tell her story. I talked to a survivor who went by the name of Anna for her story, and she had emailed The DN wanting to tell her story, so she was very willing to talk about everything that had happened. But still, while I was interviewing her, you could tell it was still difficult for her to talk about it, and it brought up a lot of emotions. So, really, during that interview, I just gave her the chance to tell her side of the story to me. And that’s just really what I tried to portray through the story that I ended up writing, and I really just felt like it was a way to give her story a platform to be told on.

Seline: Yeah. Same thing with my story. So I wrote about a faculty member, and it had been a couple of years. She was dealing with this back in, like, 2013-2014, that time period. And so- But the faculty member, who I gave the alias Caroline, she was stalked by a maintenance employee at the university. So talking to her was a bit different, just because it did occur some time ago, and so much of her life has changed since then. But it’s still- I mean, just hearing the memories that she did have, like him kissing the back of her head, him saying these things to her on the job — it’s something that stuck with me and something that, I was like, yes, this needs to be told. This did occur years ago, but it shows that Title IX and other issues related to sexual misconduct, stalking, etc. have been a problem at UNL. And through the stories that we told in April and the stories that Luna and the stories that we are telling, there’s still a problem. 

Gorenflo: Yeah. And I also interviewed a survivor who reached out to us. It was another story where it happened quite some time ago, but it’s still important to talk about — Kathy Redmond. She is the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. She went to UNL in the 90s, and she alleged that she was raped twice by future National Championship captain for the Huskers Christian Peter. And, at that time, UNL didn’t really have a Title IX office, so her case looked drastically different than the stories we’re telling today. But she did file a case with Title IX, and she sued the university for not handling her case the way she wanted them to. And now she has this organization where she helps other survivors like her, in a sense, as she puts it, fight athletic power. She believes there’s a lot of power in the Athletic Department that makes Title IX cases relating to athletes a lot more complex than other Title IX cases, so that was an interesting perspective that I was glad we could bring to the package.

So, besides survivor stories, we definitely saw a need for data and a need to compare UNL to other schools to see if these problems were showing up just at our university or not. So, Luna, you did a lot of data collecting, so what did you find through that?

Stephens: So, I really looked into all of the Big Ten universities and their Title IX offices, looking at data of both the amounts of cases they saw each year and the outcomes of those, as well as, like, student climate surveys on what the students feel is happening at the university. I think the big thing is really just that UNL is not the only university that’s seeing problems in the Title IX office. The data across the schools ended up looking pretty similar. But I think it was super important to include, just to give the UNL situation some more perspective. I was really glad we looked into that data.

Seline: Yeah. It was really good to look into that data because, I think, often times, Strickman — Tami Strickman is the Title IX coordinator at UNL, and everyone that I talked to, everyone that works with her, will say that she has the hardest job on the planet. And so every time that a survivor comes forward with their story, you look at the survivor and you think, “Well, of course, why wasn’t the person who allegedly sexually assaulted you [get] accused? Like, why did this happen? That’s really bad.” So I talked to Tami Strickman, and I was like, “How does your job work exactly?” Like, this is difficult, we have all this data showing that hundreds- or at least over 100 students have filed a case through Title IX, but only a certain, very small amount have had a result that said that, “Ah, yes, it is more than likely that this case did happen.” So what’s up with that? So, through the story I wrote about Tami Strickman, I learned about how it’s a very legal process trying to get all the evidence to come forward, talking to- trying to get many roommates who may have known about the crime, or any witnesses — just to come forward to talk about the case, talk about what they saw that night. But, one of the people- I talked to Pat Tetreault who works at the university and actually was a former victim advocate at Voices of Hope in the early 1990s. She was telling me how it’s not exactly- these are witnessless crimes, so it’s hard to gather that data. Being the Title IX coordinator is a very hard job because people are always telling you there are different and better ways to do it, and now the different and better way to do it is to try to make it as due process as possible, follow due process. But that’s very difficult.

Gorenflo: Definitely. And, interestingly, [the] polar opposite job of Tami Strickman was Melissa Wilkerson, UNL’s new in-house victim advocate. She’s had her job for almost a year now, and she came to UNL as the first-ever victim advocate after the university cut ties with Voices of Hope. And her job is, again, completely different than Tami Stickman’s in that she puts all of her energy into comforting victims and hearing them out and making sure they feel safe and welcome and have a place to go where they can find hope and talk to someone. And, as someone new on campus with such a difficult job, she’s put a lot of emphasis on making sure people are getting to know her so they can build trust with her and that they actually want to come talk to her. It was interesting to hear how she’s building trust; she’s just really on campus a lot building relationships, which, again, is so different than Tami because she can’t have any of that bias, any of those relationships. 

Seline: Yeah. Right toward the top of the story I wanted to make sure- there was this quote where she said something and I was like, “I need to make sure I put that in the story” because it was just about how, Title IX coordinators, like, of course they’re human, and of course they have feelings and they care. But it’s just that it’s their job. And she- Tami was talking about how it’s kind of something that you have to be wired to do because it’s not easy. There’s been a lot of turnover in that position across universities in the nation. And so it’s just very interesting to put it all together and look at Tami’s job. And Tami herself was talking about the importance of having Melissa, a victim advocate, there because it’s so- her job isn’t easy, and what the survivors are going through [is] not easy either. So they need someone there to make sure that their voice is heard. 

Gorenflo: Yeah, definitely. So, someone else not at UNL who is also trying to advocate for survivors would be Nebraska Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh. So Libby, can you tell me a little bit about what she's trying to do through her position?

Seline: Yeah, yeah. So, in the last legislative session for Nebraska, she was a new senator with big hopes and she introduced these two bills. One of them was LB 702, which was Adopt the Campus Safety Act, and that was something, basically a lot of survivors came forward because the bill was just like, hey, universities in Nebraska, like, please make sure that you are following through with these protocols to make sure that survivors are being treated well. And so that was something that was really important to Cavanaugh, and then she also had a bill that was LB 534 which was about … having Nebraska collect campus climate data that the school will send out to students so they can kind of know like, oh, like, do your sexual- like is Title IX like really effective here or just kind of like different policies [they] have in place, like, are you comfortable reporting these things to different university officials blah, blah, blah. And so that was the point of LB 534. LB 702 will likely not get passed just because a lot of universities, including UNL, kind of say, like, hey, no, this comes off as you telling me how to do my job. So, that is likely not to get passed in the next legislative session. But LB 534 Cavanaugh is hoping will be passed next legislative session, which I think, in talking to UNL students who advocated for LB 702, like, I don't know, they just want to see change. And so- and Cavanaugh was telling me, like, we could do better, like, there's always more to do, and she was telling me like how proud she is of Dear UNL and just the fact that these students came forward to talk about it. So, she wants to raise [the] voices of those who have been- well, just raise people's voices in general, really.

Gorenflo: Yeah, so, like Libby said, there's always more to do, there's always, then, more to report on. So, the story is definitely not over. If you would like to participate in the story, you can email our investigations@dailynebraskan.com email with a story of you or someone you know, and your experience with the Title IX office at UNL. But, for now, I think that wraps up Title IX Part Two. Libby, Luna: Do you guys have anything else to add?

Seline: I don't know. I mean, it's been so hard because you just want to make sure throughout the process that you're really doing justice to all these stories, really making sure all sides are heard, making sure the university's heard because the university- they just formed a collaborative, Tami Strickman is doing her job. They have Melissa Wilkerson who is out on campus trying to build these relationships. And then you have survivors who are still who are hurt and upset, and they're- obviously they just went through, I mean they're coming through, they have these stories that are absolutely just horrific. So being dropped this project in the lap was actually very terrifying because that's all you want to- you just want to honor every side of it, but it's been so rewarding to be a part of it. It's been one of my- definitely probably one of my favorite parts of working at The Daily Nebraskan. So, I'm really happy with our final product, and I'm glad that a lot of people are, too.

Stephens: Yeah, I would say it was definitely a difficult project to work on, and it was very time consuming and very stressful when I was in the midst of it But, now that it's published, I'm just really glad that we did it because I feel like there are so many voices that need to be heard on this topic. So, yeah, I'm just really glad we did it.

Gorenflo: Yeah, me too. For sure. So, thank you for tuning in everyone. Please continue to follow this issue at dailynebraskan.com and read our nine-part Title IX investigation part two.

Seline: It's important.

Gorenflo: Yes, it is. Thank you, Libby. It’s very important.

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Thank you for listening, and, until next time, we hope you enjoyed diving in with The DN.