Students frustrated with Title IX assault case handling

Losing cases, lack of response, inadequate support…
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by Angel Barker

Cal Poly Humboldt’s students, organizations, and community are unhappy with the Title IX office as well as President Tom Jackson after recent speeches and handling of cases.

Title IX is the law adopted in 1972 that stipulates, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” (From Cal Poly Humboldt’s Title IX & Discrimination, Harassment, & Retaliation Prevention website). Title IX is also intended to protect students against sexual misconduct including harassment and assault.

Female student Jane Doe (whose name has been changed for privacy reasons) reported an assault to Humboldt’s Title IX office in June. It is now September, and from her perspective, not much has been done. At one point in the summer, her case was lost.

“This whole summer I went through without having responses,” Doe said. “I get there are multiple things they have to deal with, but how do you tell a victim…that you flat out lost her case [and message thread],” referencing an email she received from David Hickcox apologizing for the delayed response.  Hickcox is the Coordinator of the Cal Poly Humboldt Title IX office.

Doe says due to rumors surrounding the university’s handling of Title IX reports, she did not want to file a report.

“I didn’t want to go in the first place because I had heard of people putting multiple complaints in and nothing being done,” Doe said. “So I went in with [the mindset of] ‘we’ll see where it goes’.”

The Title IX office told her they could do two things for her. First, she could get the support she might need, like withdrawing from classes, and having them monitor her academic progress. The other option was to go through a formal reporting process that leads to a thorough investigation of everything that happened. This choice could have led to getting her assailant expelled from campus, through the Student Conduct office. Doe chose the support option.

“They didn’t make me comfortable to come clean about everything so I took the safer route,” Doe said. “I chose that one because I don’t want him to know what I have against him. That kind of defeats the purpose of having a Title IX.” Doe was told that if she took the investigation route, her assailant would be made aware of her accusation.

Doe was assaulted in a campus housing dorm room, and now she doesn’t feel safe on campus. “I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I see him everywhere,” Doe said.

Students also feel like the Title IX office is not timely enough and that the process takes too long.

“I think it just takes way too long for students to get the help they need,” said Iman Jackson, a senior who was sexually assaulted at an off-campus party. 

“It is just a long process,” Jackson said. “Maybe if they warned people that it is a long process it might be better, but if you can’t do it in a timely manner, at least have a plan.”

Jackson does not think that the process is meaningful enough. “I feel like they kind of fall short in regards to helping men who have been sexually assualted or harrassed,” he said. “I feel like if they want to change the rhetoric of being supportive and inclusive to all, I think they probably change how their procedure goes.”

Students have taken to social media to express grievances against the Title IX reporting process. Student commenter Lexi Holloman commented on a Humboldt Poly Confessions Instagram post that her report was lost and that she had to file more than once.

“I contacted Title IX and they said they have been handling the reports of [assailant’s name] in the ways that they can, and so I made another report because they didn’t even have my original report,” Holloman commented.

When asked to respond to student accusations of lost cases and lack of response, Hickcox said that he was unaware of any lost cases but “encourages them to contact [his] office.”

In response to feedback on social media, Hickcox said, “I’m aware of the [Humboldt Confessions page] and there is this perception that we do nothing.”

“I looked at Humboldt Confessions today and I can tell you what I saw on there today is not an accurate representation of what Title IX is doing,” Hickcox said. “It makes Title IX’s job a lot harder when people don’t believe in the process.”

Recently, President Jackson implied in a speech that it would be better to keep Title IX reports out of the media.

“I hate being in the news, because we have so many positive things happening on our campus,” Jackson said. He also stated that the Title IX process is designed to resolve cases “behind the doors in a meaningful amicable way.”

This speech damaged Doe’s opinion on the president and campus’ Title IX handling.

“I was offended. Although I had no say in the media aspect of my assaulter, it made me shy away from going to the office and tainted my self esteem walking into my appointment,” Doe said. 

Hickcox views the President’s remarks differently.

“I understand that people are upset because they are inferring that he is saying to not report to Title IX,” Hickcox said. “I think the President is expressing frustration that when sensitive confidential Title IX details get into the media that it lowers the credibility of the process.”

Students and student organizations like Students for Quality Education are calling on the university to take responsibility and make a better Title IX process. The following is a comment from Students for Quality Education.

“We as Students for Quality Education denounce the words and actions done by President Jackson. He has furthered harm toward victims and survivors on campus and is an active perpetuator of rape culture. As the leader of a public university you’d expect his comments to be more in line with 2022 rather than the 1950s and you cannot expect systems and institutions of oppression to be fixed by whispers and behind closed doors. It took little to no courage for a man in power to say such things about victims and survivors as if we are still in the past. Secrets do not fix harm. President Jackson has failed to protect students, staff and faculty. Cal Poly Humboldt and the CSU as a whole needs to reform Title IX and continue to support and build on programs focused on supporting and bringing justice for victims and survivors rather than protecting a public image and defending institutions of harm.”

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