Omar Abdul-Rahim/Sun File Photo

The Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX is located in Day Hall, as pictured on Feb. 27, 2017.

May 4, 2022

A Student’s Experience with the Title IX Office

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For students at Cornell, the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX is the place to go to report incidents of bias and harassment that make them feel unsafe. All public universities are required to comply to Title IX, which prohibits discimination on the basis of sex. 

For one graduate student, however, whose name is withheld for privacy reasons, navigating the Title IX Office was difficult and unnerving. After a Havard University sexual assault case broke national headlines, the student was inspired by The Sun’s coverage of a complaint about the University’s Title IX Office to share her story. 

“The Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX addresses bias incidents, sexual and related misconduct, discrimination and protected-status harassment,” said Lauren Branchini, a Title IX coordinator. “We are a neutral office, as opposed to an advocate, that serves the entire University community, including complainants and respondents, and students, faculty and staff.” 

The student’s experience revolves around months of text messages, verbal altercations and conversations with the same individual. The student said that this individual has targeted women and threatened them with weapons he had on hand and said that they were also targeting Asian women specifically. The student claims that 27 people on campus have spoken to the Dean of the Johnson School of Business about this individual.

The Sun has obtained recordings of multiple meetings between this student and Branchini which all occurred this semester. 

“I am very concerned with the safety of women and others at this campus. There is this one individual that we are all very nervous about and I am here to discuss it with you,” the student said in the meeting recording. “I’m honestly scared. As a woman, as a student here, I do not feel safe as a student on campus.”

Branchini described in an email to The Sun the first steps the Title IX Office will take after receiving a complaint. 

“Generally speaking, we would contact the complainant (if identified) and provide them with information about their rights and options on campus so they can be empowered to make the decision that’s best for them,” Branchini said. “These steps are the same for all reports of sexual and related misconduct under Policy 6.4.”

Policy 6.4 prohibits bias, discrimination, harassment and other sexual-related misconduct. This policy was the basis of the graduate student’s formal complaint against her alleged perpetrator. 

The student had multiple meetings with the Title IX office to discuss the harassment she claims to have endured, but she feels her case was not treated with proper urgency. In a meeting with Branchini, the student expressed her frustrations with the lack of communication from the Title IX office. 

“No one got in touch with me, I had to reach out multiple times to get any sort of information,” she told The Sun. “I’m quite frustrated at this point. I feel quite frustrated by your office and by this school.”

Lauren Branchini said in the email to The Sun that filing a complaint is not an instantaneous process. 

“Due to privacy protections, I cannot comment on specific cases or someone’s specific experience,” Branchini said. “While we make every attempt to provide support and access to a process as quickly as possible, it’s understandable that any amount of waiting time can feel like a long time when someone is going through something traumatic or stressful.”

Branchini said that the behavior reported by the student, which was submitted by CUPD, did not violate Policy 6.4 in the recording obtained by The Sun. 

The Title IX Office has resources to help accommodate victims and make them feel safe. 

“We work with several offices on campus to coordinate resources that are tailored to an individual’s unique needs,” Branchini said. “At Cornell, we are fortunate to have many excellent resources for mental and physical health, victim advocacy, public safety, academic support and procedural advice on campus and in the Ithaca and New York City communities.”

Despite these resources, the student did not feel she was adequately helped.

“I do not feel safe with him on campus. I am a bit disturbed by the lack of action taken by the school. People keep telling me their hands are tied. But this needs to be addressed,” the student said in the recording. “This has been a waste of three months for me trying to get something done.” 

A few weeks after the student’s final meeting with Branchini, she received an email from Title IX’s Vice President, Laura Rugless. The email explained that the accused student voluntarily removed himself from campus and would be leaving Ithaca by April 1, meaning a temporary suspension would not be granted. 

“For the amount of work [the Johnson School of Business] does to say that they support women, when it comes down to it, the school says that their hands are tied,” the student said. “This is an issue.”