The Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX is still investigating reports, meeting daily and even conducting hearings — but now over Zoom.
The team of eight members, which processed 282 reports of sexual assault in 2018, has taken its office operations online to continue support for a Cornell community now scattered across the world.
“We’re doing everything,” said Laura Rugless, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president for the Office of Institutional Equity. “We haven’t put any part of the process on hold, we’re just now in a remote space.”
The office provides information and assistance for issues of sexual and related misconduct, receives reports related to any form of bias or discrimination and works with partner departments to investigate them.
Shortly after operations moved online, the office had a completely remote panel hearing, according to Rugless.
“It went really smoothly, considering it was our first remote one,” she said. “We did it by Zoom, everyone was in a separate space … It’s very interesting, but it worked.”
Consistent with state and University requirements, parties were still able to have advisors and support members with them through the hearing.
“It’s a process [that] I think is best done in-person, for a lot of reasons,” Rugless said about the change. “We’re doing all the same things that we do when we meet with people in person, to the greatest extent remotely — which is to make sure they’re comfortable, that they have the opportunity to take breaks when they need to, things are scheduled at their convenience.”
Rugless recognized the loss of the in-person connection, but also said that some students may now feel more comfortable reporting while away from campus.
Students can “absolutely” still make reports to the office, whether incidents occurred in or outside Ithaca, Rugless assured.
The office will help students find resources in their home communities or put them in touch with Ithaca-based or national resources. Currently, the Cornell Victim Advocate, the Tompkins County Advocacy Center and Counseling and Psychological Services are offering remote appointments.
“We’re always glad to try to assist with that,” Rugless said.
One of the disappointing parts for her team was canceling the programming for Sexual Assault Awareness Week, Rugless said. However, it still hopes to ultimately produce a video to build awareness and increase prevention efforts.
“Ultimately, we are continuing to address all types of matters that reflect potential bias or discrimination,” Rugless said.