Title IX

The wheels of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s bureaucratic machine are always spinning. But just because the wheels are spinning doesn’t mean we’re going anywhere.

Nothing better represents this than the implementation of UNL’s new Title IX Collaborative. The new group, comprised of 45 students, staff and faculty from across the university, was announced in September, following a barrage of criticisms launched against UNL and its Title IX office for allegedly mishandling  cases of sexual misconduct on campus.

Although the collaborative is tasked with advising UNL on policy changes to improve responses to sexual misconduct, it seems unlikely that any real change will come from its formation due to one key flaw: there is currently no one listed on the committee who has ever been part of a Title IX investigation at UNL.

If the purpose of the collaborative is to determine how UNL can better its Title IX process and its overall response to sexual misconduct on campus, then the exclusion of those who have been directly involved in UNL’s Title IX process is a grave oversight that will likely have detrimental consequences. Without input from those involved in the process, a Title IX collaborative committee has no purpose; UNL is simply spinning its wheels.

Firstly, those who have had a Title IX case, whether they were accused of misconduct or they reported it, have more knowledge on how the process affects students than anyone else at the university. As such, excluding them from involvement bars the most knowledgeable people on campus about sexual misconduct and Title IX from making decisions about how to improve its processes.

The Title IX collaborative currently has three expressed purposes: education and prevention of sexual misconduct, intervention and advising the university on policies and procedures related to sexual misconduct and Title IX. Speaking from personal experience, the knowledge of participants in Title IX investigations is unmatched in each of these areas. Refusing to hear these perspectives does a disservice to a group that should be working toward the betterment of the university.

This is especially true as it relates to advising the university on policy changes for Title IX. Part of what makes Title IX such an insidious institution is that, while its policies may sound fine on paper, sexual misconduct investigations are often kept extremely private by nature. As such, it can be difficult to know what actually goes on in a Title IX investigation until you are part of one. 

This disconnect in how UNL’s Title IX office claims to operate and how it actually functions behind closed doors was central to a Daily Nebraskan investigation earlier this year, in which multiple survivors of sexual misconduct detailed how UNL’s Title IX office failed to make them feel safe or hold their assailants accountable. UNL’s Title IX office is clearly in need of reform. In order to understand the problems with Title IX, you need to have been through the process. 

This begs the question then: If people who have been in a Title IX investigation are necessary to this collaborative functioning as best it can, why have they been excluded? Thus far, no one from the university has spoken publicly about why reporters of sexual misconduct or those formerly accused of it have been denied participation on the committee. However, the decision was not simply by chance.

The lack of Title IX participants’ perspectives on the collaborative committee is not accidental.

Multiple members of Dear UNL, a group on campus that has pressured the university to change its Title IX process, claim that they were originally supposed to be included on the committee after being elected to the position or appointed as representatives. However, neither were allowed to attend the collaborative’s first meeting, nor were they listed in UNL’s official list of participants.

While it is still unclear why UNL is excluding those who’ve experienced a Title IX investigation from being involved in the committee, the decision to do so speaks volumes. Whatever reasoning UNL may have for excluding these voices, whether due to legal reasons, university policy or something else, doing so shows that the creation of an effective committee is not a priority. It shows that the university is content with creating an entire committee to pretend like they are taking action, knowing full well that nothing will come of it.

Furthermore, barring these individuals from participating in the collaborative is retaliatory against those who have reported misconduct or been accused of it, regardless of the outcome. To punish people for reporting a crime or for being found innocent of committing one is against the UNL Student Code of Conduct, which states, “university policy prohibits retaliation against any person making a complaint of sexual misconduct or against any person cooperating in the investigation.” 

By keeping these perspectives out of the collaborative, the university not only breaks its own rule against retaliation, but also shows that it would rather marginalize students who have been through traumatic events rather than empower them to enact change on campus.

This isn’t to say the idea of a collaborative committee is a complete lost cause. Action on behalf of the university administration to make changes to an ineffective and traumatizing Title IX process has been necessary for years. As such, the thought that there is a group of people tasked with addressing this problem is encouraging, but it means nothing without the expertise and participation of those who understand how Title IX works. This collaborative could be the first step in making important changes to UNL, but only if the administration is willing to listen to those who may have been wronged in the process.

Taking the exclusion of these necessary perspectives into account, it becomes clear that UNL is not committed to actually improving its response to sexual misconduct. The Title IX Collaborative has the potential to solve problems that have plagued UNL’s Title IX process for years, but unless the university decides to prioritize progress over self-preservation, all the collaborative can do is continue to spin its wheels.

Sydney Ozuna is a junior journalism major. Reach her at opinion@dailynebraskan.com