Sexual assault incidents and reports to the Title IX office increased in 2018, according to data published in late January.
Cornell had the highest number of reported sexual assault incidents out of every university and college in New York in 2018, according to data collected by the New York State Department of Education. With 282 reports, Cornell far outnumbers peer institutions like New York University at 173 reports and Columbia at 111.
With enrollment taken into consideration, Cornell’s numbers are even more significant: NYU has 51,847 students, dwarfing Cornell’s 24,848.
As the office enters a new era under recently appointed Title IX coordinator Laura Rugless, it maintains that the increase of reports are a positive.
“Overwhelmingly, it is a positive thing to see an increase in reports,” Rugless, associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity, told The Sun. “It gives a sense that the program is working the way it should.”
More reports implies better awareness of and more trust in the office, the Title IX coordinator said.
Following the “Enough is Enough” law passed in 2015, the University is required to report incidents of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking to the state of New York. These numbers are drawn from the reports first given to the Title IX office.
The numbers can include any experience of sexual or related misconduct — whether or not it happened under Cornell’s jurisdiction. Any information from any source is included in the reporting data, according to Chantelle Cleary, Rugless’ predecessor.
This is all information the coordinator finds valuable, explained Cleary, who left the office after 18 months as its head. Not only are reports an opportunity to provide support to survivors, but they also serve as a snapshot of the campus climate.
The office processes cases under Policy 6.4 — the University’s means to address bias, discrimination, harassment and sexual and related misconduct — but only if the accuser chooses to pursue institutional action and if the alleged conduct constitutes a violation. In 2018, only 16 percent of reporters sought institutional judicial processes.
“Reports are a positive thing because it allows folks who have these experiences first and foremost to have information that will empower them to make choices that are right for them in the aftermath of an experience,” Cleary told The Sun. “That’s one of the primary functions of this office.”
Tucked in the basement of Day Hall, the Title IX office seeks to reach out to everybody who has an experience “to offer the opportunity to understand all of their rights and resources,” according to Cleary. However, the Department of Education report sorely underrepresents the number of incidents, Cleary said.
Incidents — reported or not — have increased across the board, according to a 2019 University survey. Thirteen percent of students have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation since entering Cornell — a rise from 11 percent in 2017, The Sun previously reported.
Ultimately, the office hopes to better understand the community’s problems, develop prevention methods and eventually see an overall decrease in reports.
One primary goal during Cleary’s tenure was outreach. From 2017 to 2019, awareness of the Title IX office increased from 38 percent to 55.2 percent, according to the University survey. Cleary’s administration took steps — both large and small — to better communicate the roles of the office to the broader community.
“We really, really placed an emphasis not just on engaging with the community in a training space, but also as humans,” Cleary said.
Cleary also estimated that Theoria Cason, training and education coordinator, trained “close to 20,000 folks in less than a year,” leading the outreach efforts with in-person training. Cornell is home to 34,310 students, faculty and staff. Rugless added that these estimates were solely for the Title IX office, excluding training by other campus partners.
Looking forward, Rugless is hopeful about the office’s work to maintain communication with the community and to support as many survivors as possible — even if that doesn’t necessarily mean investigating more cases.
“What we can do is make sure that we have adequate resources, and people have options to access them” Rugless said. “I don’t know that we can drive that number higher, we can just make sure that we’re doing as good a job as possible as a university in providing those services.”
Members of the Cornell Community may consult with the Victim Advocate by calling 607-255-1212, and with Cornell Health by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. The Tompkins County-based Advocacy Center is available at 607.277.5000. For additional resources, visit health.cornell.edu/services/victim-advocacy.