Opinion Sig

The Daily Nebraskan received a letter from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green on Tuesday, April 23, addressing the Title IX article that was published earlier this month.

Although we value substantive critiques as a means of improving our reporting, we felt the letter’s criticism of our Title IX investigation was unfounded.

Green’s letter addressed several issues he saw with the article. His first grievance was that the article didn’t explain that UNL has a new victim advocate on campus, which replaced Voices of Hope as the official victim advocate for the university. The article clearly explains that UNL now has its own victim advocate.

Later in the article, there is a more in-depth explanation as to what the victim advocate does, addressing all of the concerns Green said were omitted from the article:

“UNL’s victim advocates, which work out of the University Health Center, are employees who connect students with campus and community resources, explain the Title IX process and inform survivors of options like academic modifications, housing changes, and ‘no-contact’ orders, according to Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director.

The two in-house victim advocates provide a combined 80 hours each week of victim advocacy to the university. Reed said this constitutes a significant increase compared to the part-time support of 10 hours per week provided previously through Voices of Hope.

While the advocates have a cooperative relationship with the Title IX office, Reed said they are independent from the office and are not accountable to it.

‘Our advocates’ first job is to listen to victims and to provide them a safe and confidential place to find the emotional, psychological and legal resources they need,’ she said in an email.

Reed said UNL followed in the footsteps of other Big Ten universities by hiring a full-time victim advocate in the summer of 2018. She said Melissa Wilkerson, the university’s lead victim advocate, worked as a victim advocate from 2000 to 2014 in a Colorado District Attorney’s office and also has provided advocacy service to women’s shelters in Kansas and Colorado.

‘The university regretfully ended its contractual relationship with Voices of Hope in 2018 as part of its decision to internalize and expand advocacy services on campus,’ she said in an email. ‘This new approach brings us into line with the best practices of other universities across the country.’”

The Daily Nebraskan reached out to the UNL Victim Advocate’s office for an interview, but the office redirected us to Reed. The article still provided a clear definition of campus resources and why the decision was made to end the contractual relationship between the university and Voices of Hope.

Green also said he was concerned the article did not clearly differentiate the role of the Title IX office from that of the victim advocate, and by doing so could “result in many other students choosing to not to come forward and get the support they need.”

Again, the article clearly explains what the role of the Title IX office is and why people who come into the office believing it will be like a victim advocate service are often confused and disappointed. Tami Strickman, UNL’s Title IX coordinator, offered an explanation of what the office is herself in the article:

“Strickman said she understands how students who go in believing Title IX is a victim advocate organization can experience it as a cold, unfeeling office.

‘One of the statements that we hear, not only in this office, but across the nation … is we’re often referred to the non-emotional people on campus,’ she said. ‘And we certainly don’t want to be perceived that way, per say, but at the same time, we have a very difficult job to do, where we have to assess information as it’s been presented to us and draw conclusions and analyses based on that information.’

UNL’s Title IX office conducts neutral investigations and is vested with less power than it’s assumed to have, according to Strickman. She said the office doesn’t make unilateral decisions, so they work with other university offices to help accommodate survivors.

Strickman said the office can work with professors and teaching assistants if a survivor’s trauma causes them to need an extension on a project, but it can’t make academic decisions directly. The office can also work with residence directors and assistants to accommodate those in uncomfortable living situations after an incident.”

The Daily Nebraskan brought these survivor stories to light to show how survivors are being treated during the Title IX process. Survivors told stories of how the Title IX process was confusing, mentally and emotionally exhausting and above all, traumatizing.

Phoebe, a survivor for whom we used a pseudonym in the article, said she wasn’t angry at UNL for how Title IX treated her, but rather was disappointed because she felt the university excels in so many other areas, but fails to protect survivors.

These survivors are students who trusted the university to treat them with dignity and respect when they came forward with sexual misconduct claims. Instead, they said they were met with an apathetic office that some said only traumatized them more:

“Sheridan Thomas was raped as a 17-year-old freshman in August 2015. She said her experience dealing with the Title IX office at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was worse than any trauma she experienced at the hands of her rapist.

‘My experience with them was awful,’ she said. ‘It was … way worse than the trauma that I had already gone through, so it’s just like extra trauma I didn’t need. And if I would have known that, I wouldn’t have gone to them.’”

The Daily Nebraskan appreciates Green’s concern for survivor stories, and we value any reader feedback, but we found Green’s criticisms to be without warrant.

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 investigations@dailynebraskan.com.