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March 9, 2017

Cornell Title IX Investigations Draw National Attention, Reveal Concerns

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Cornell is once again in the national spotlight. Attention from The New York Times and USA Today has echoed The Sun’s recent coverage of the visits by investigators from Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in response to allegations that the University did not respond properly to a sexual assault complaint.

Cornell’s response to reports of sexual assault and discrimination has been brought to the forefront with six open Title IX investigations, the highest number in the nation.

Advocates like End Rape On Campus — a national non-profit organization — are pushing universities to increase protective measures for women and survivors and educational prevention programs.

EROC media and communications director Colleen Daly emphasized the importance of providing sexual assault survivors with emotional support and media training.

Most importantly, this entails telling survivors that she believes them, Daily said, noting how common it is for survivors — especially minorities — to feel uncomfortable about telling others because people may dismiss their stories as exaggerated or untrue.

“It’s one of our biggest achievements. Every day, we tell survivors that we believe them and that it’s not their fault,” she said. “The police are often not as supportive of them as they should be.”

With the rest of the five-person EROC team, Daly works every day to support sexual violence survivors as well as encourage prevention through education.

“Women of color are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, as well as members of the LGBTQ community,” Daly said. “For transgender students, as much as one in two students are sexually assaulted, which is terrifying.”

Cornell has several organizations set up to provide safe spaces for minorities on campus, such as the Cornell Intercultural Programs, the Asian and Asian American Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, the Africana Studies and Research Center and the Women’s Resource Center, among many others.

But the dispersion of these organizations throughout campus is unacceptable, according to Scott Ho ’18.

“Our safe spaces — the A3C and LGBTRC — are all on North Campus,” he said. “If Cornell really valued diversity like they say they do, these safe spaces should be on Central Campus so that everyone can access them.”

The A3C and LGBTRC are “pretty understaffed and overworked,” Ho added, expressing frustration about the minimal funding that the two organizations receive.

Charlene Hsu ’20 noted the performances from Tapestry and Speak About It during orientation week fell flat, mostly because they were not engaging enough to stimulate genuine conversation to bring about change and awareness.

“The programs weren’t very effective in conveying their message,” Hsu said. “I think the problem is that the topics themselves are always difficult to talk about as people deflect or defer their attention to ‘funny’ things when they get uncomfortable.”

Ho added that the resource centers could contribute to orienting students about these issues.

“What would be more effective is if LGBTRC, Women’s Resource Center, A3C and other resource centers and identity groups could partner together and have a mandatory workshop during orientation week,” Ho said.

Daly said that having confidential advisors on campus would improve Cornell’s ability to respond to sexual violence complaints.

“Most colleges have ‘mandatory reporters,’ where if a victim tells a mandatory reporter about what happened, they are required to pass the information on so that the incidence can be investigated,” Daly said. “Some students are not comfortable with that.”

Conversations about consent and rape are almost too late during college orientation week, Daly added.

“We need to remember that this conversation has to start well before college,” Daly said. “Rape culture is rampant in our society and it exists well before students reach their college campus. It’s not enough to teach students that ‘no means no.’ We need to tell them that ‘yes means yes’ only when they explicitly say so.”

With a new presidential administration, Daly expressed subtle concerns regarding the federal government’s upkeep of Title IX rights for minority students.

“Regardless of what the government decides to do, we will continue to provide support for all victims of sexual assault,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”