After leading Cornell’s Title IX office for only 18 months, Chantelle Cleary was replaced on Jan. 2 by Laura Rugless as the associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX coordinator.
Cleary, who joined Cornell’s office in June 2018 to replace Sarah Affel, told The Sun that she decided to leave Ithaca after only one-and-a-half years to be closer to her family in Albany.
Throughout January, Cleary and Rugless will work together to transition the office, which has expanded significantly in recent years due to an increased workload.
“The [Title IX] office not only handles reports of sexual or related misconduct but now also handles reports of any other form of prohibited discrimination under policy 6.4,” Cleary said — a change which took effect this past summer. Under Cornell University Policy, Policy 6.4 is geared toward addressing instances of bias, discrimination, harassment and sexual and related misconduct.
Rugless formerly served as the executive director of equity and access services and Title IX coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has also held a number of positions associated with state government, civil rights, equity and private law.
Just two weeks into her new position, Rugless spoke favorably of Cornell, saying it is the “high caliber people who are here, that struck me instantly.”
Cleary told The Sun that her short-lived experience as Title IX coordinator taught her to be more mindful and present.
“I intend to take those skills I’ve learned here at Cornell from watching so many folks do it so well into my next journey,” Cleary said.
In the past 18 months, Cleary expanded the office’s staff from three to eight people, she told The Sun. During her tenure, she and her team focused on collaborations with individuals and groups across campus, aiming to change the campus culture.
As the new Title IX coordinator, Rugless intends to continue honoring the office’s current mission of prevention and education.
“We do want to expand our focus to a more strategic efforts around prevention and prevention can take a number [of] forms,” she said.
One such program already in place for fall 2020 is an online Title IX training course. While Rugless said the course would not serve as a substitute for in-person training, it will be a useful tool to evaluate areas where the office can progress.
In fall 2019, Cornell released a survey on sexual assault and related misconduct which showed an increase in undergraduates who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, though Rugless told The Sun that the report is not necessarily reflective of an increase in reports.
“We have to be very careful about drawing conclusions from data and make sure we have as comprehensive a picture as possible of what is going on here,” Rugless said.
Rugless noted Cleary’s efforts to cultivate an experienced team during her short tenure and hopes to carry on Cleary’s work as new Title IX coordinator.
“The team that Chantelle has built and nurtured here has a great deal of experience and it’s just extraordinary, so credit to her,” Rugless said. “I could not be more honored to be able to serve as the next leader.”