University of Nebraska-Lincoln Title IX Coordinator Tami Strickman begins each day knowing it will be different than the one before.
Someone new will likely call her office with a concern about a student and seek advice about how to handle a situation. She may also take a phone call about a case related to discrimination or sexual harassment. Although her day is packed, she always tries to be available for a phone call to learn about a case.
A complainant of an alleged sexual assault may cry in her office. Strickman may have to tell a student that she cannot verify their allegations — the greater weight of evidence does not show the person accused of assault violated a campus policy.
During those moments, she will rely on the victim advocate to support the survivor during the discussion, but it’s her job to deliver the verdict, and it’s not easy.
“I think if you’re not able to really separate your personal feelings and life from that every day in the office, [this job] is not a good fit,” she said. “It’s not to say that the people who can do that are not human or emotional or caring people. It’s just a different, almost a different way you’re wired.”
Strickman became Title IX coordinator after she came to UNL as an investigator at UNL’s Institutional Equity and Compliance in 2015. Every day, Strickman uses her background as a sex crimes prosecuter to oversee all parts of Title IX, such as disabilities, discrimination and sexual assault.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, about two-thirds of Title IX coordinators have not been in their position for more than three years as of 2018. Since Strickman became coordinator, the job has changed. She said it once focused on the survivor of the assault but now focuses on the fairness of the investigation. She’s not an advocate for survivors because she is focused on gathering evidence to learn if a respondent violated a policy.
“It’s one of the rare areas that is always changing,” she said. “We’re always being told there’s a different and better way to do it. That’s one thing that’s really hard, not only for those of us who are doing this work, to understand, but especially students because there has been a big shift.”
Each investigation is focused on due process, so “the greater weight of evidence” must show the person accused of breaking a campus policy did break the rules, Strickman said. As an investigator, Strickman looks at the case from both sides and tries to gather as much evidence as possible.
“No matter what the circumstances or the outcome, [these are] very hard situations for the people who have come forward and for the people who have been accused,” she said. “Even though I think we always think about victims and survivors and the emotions they’re going through, people who have been accused are going through similar emotions, for different reasons, but very same types of tears, anger, confusion.”
Most of the time, students do not want to continue to think about the situation and decide to not go through with an investigation. During the investigation, Strickman or another Title IX investigator will gather information about the complainant’s accusation by interviewing colleagues and witnesses.
Additionally, Strickman said complainants sometimes request to remain anonymous, which hinders an investigation.
“Sometimes, there is a hope that … the university will be able to do something about it because they have the name of a person, but we can’t; we’ve got to comply with the due process,” she said. “The person who has been accused has a right to know the specific allegations, who’s accusing them and then be given an opportunity to respond.”
Strickman said the office will collect as much information as possible while they conduct an investigation. But sometimes, witnesses will not come forward to help with a case.
“No one is obligated to come and talk to us, so we may have big gaps where we call witnesses, and they say, ‘I’m not participating,’” Strickman said. “ … so the parties might say, ‘My roommate can tell you the whole deal.’ And we call the roommate and the roommate says, ‘Yeah, I talked to my parents, and they don’t want me participating in any administrative investigation.’”
On most days, Strickman does not conduct an investigation. She trains search advisory committees and attends trainings to become more informed at her job.
She also said she will take two or three phone calls each day from a UNL employee who would like advice about a situation with a student or faculty member. Every situation Strickman encounters is different, and she said Title IX coordinators from other universities seek advice from each other.
“You’re always thinking about lots of different things and how to handle something,” she said. “ … There’s always a lot of different competing factors to every question we get.”
Women’s Center and LGBTQA+ Resource Center director Pat Tetreault said she works with Strickman on an as-needed basis. She will call Institutional Equity and Compliance when she encounters a situation that potentially violates Title IX’s guidelines.
“We have lawyers because they’ve been trained in this specialty system, and you almost need lawyers to be able to translate the law and be the liaison and you as a person,” Tetreault said.
As a former victim advocate at Voices of Hope, Tetreault said she understands the frustration survivors may experience in an investigation, but she knows the investigation attempts to uncover the facts surrounding a situation such as sexual assault.
“The way our legal system works, you have to have evidence, and often these are witness-less crimes,” she said. “So, when you go in and you feel like you’re not being treated fairly, if you haven’t been well-prepared for going in and what you’re going to experience, if you don’t have somebody there with you to help support you, you’re going to be pretty upset.”
Regardless of whatever her day consists of, Strickman leaves work, drives home to Omaha and sees her family.
She lays down in bed and answers emails about cases or questions she encounters. She is convinced the phone’s keys are becoming smaller or her fingers are becoming bigger because her night emails often have typos, she said with a laugh.
The next morning, she drives back to Lincoln and braces for the day ahead.
Editors’ Note: If you or someone you know has had an experience with the Title IX office you’d like to share with The Daily Nebraskan, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a Title IX series. Click here for a table of contents.