Title IX office re-evaluating sexual misconduct prevention programs


The Title IX office is re-evaluating its programming to better address sexual misconduct on campus following the recent release of a campus sexual assault survey. 

Katie Pope, the associate vice chancellor of Civil Rights and Title IX, said in a Nov. 15 town hall that the results of the 2019 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey helped push her office to attempt to implement new strategies to decrease sexual misconduct on campus.

Katie PopeThis is the second town hall the office has ever held in its attempts to be more transparent with its processes and was more heavily attended than the first, Pope said.

The climate survey, she said, gave the Pitt community a strong thing to “rally around.” And the town halls are a way to have an open dialogue about these issues.

“I'm hoping that the community gets ... that we really are striving to be open and accessible to them, not just when they have a concern about sexual misconduct, but when they have a comment or a concern about process or policy and feedback that they want to give us,” Pope said. 

During the town hall, students and staff grilled Title IX office representatives on how they’ll handle instances of sexual misconduct. Many were alarmed by findings in the survey, which was released in September.

Among the results, 14.4 percent of the Pitt students who took the survey said they experienced nonconsensual sexual content by force or inability to consent. Roughly 25 percent of men and 28.1 percent of women who reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact said it happened in a Pitt dorm or residence hall.

The survey, which is conducted once every four years, also highlighted that specific groups of students experienced higher rates of sexual misconduct. Of the students surveyed, more than 25 percent of women reported experiencing sexual assault, and 59.8 percent of non-heterosexual students reported sexual harassment. About 46.3 black students surveyed reported sexual harassment, and 26 percent of students with a disability said they experienced forced sexual contact. 

Graduate students are a particularly vulnerable population as well, with more than 24 percent of female and 16.2 percent of male graduate students who took the survey reporting being harassed by faculty compared to 6.9 percent of female undergraduates and 7.2 percent of men.

The full 217-page report and the accompanying tables can be found online.

Since the survey was released, Pitt has outlined a multi-pronged approach to address these findings.

Pope said Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is re-evaluating and expanding its prevention training programs. The training programs would potentially include more than just how faculty, staff and students should report incidents, but on the culture surrounding sexual misconduct.

The University also is working to address the vulnerable populations outlined in the survey’s findings, she said, and will unveil more specific plans in January 2020.

“We recognize that there are a number of barriers to students who identify as transgender students, who identify as having a disability to students who actually are international that are coming forward to talk with us,” Pope said. “Part of the work that we want to do is to figure out better ways to outreach to these groups and better ways to make the services not just within the Title IX office but services across campus more supportive.”

Pope also said the Office of the Provost is offering seed grant funding, up to $50,000 for each project for a total of $250,000, to the Pitt community for proposals that would be able to address these issues. It’ll take the Pitt community to work together with the Title IX office to better address the issues outlined in the survey, Pope said.

“I would love to be able to snap my fingers and make it so nobody has to endure any type of sexual violence or sexual misconduct? Abso - friggin- lutely (sic),” Pope said. “But this is a big task that we all have to figure out where we fit in how to make how to solve the problem.” 

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. 


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