Letters from the Editor: Trust

As I sit at my computer today, my social media feeds are blowing up with notifications over our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos possibly altering Title IX guidelines. Title IX, a section of federal law which makes discrimination on the basis of sex illegal, has been a great source of controversy and strife at this university. Specifically, she has spoken of having intention to give people accused of Title IX infractions more rights than the process currently allows.

Not even a full year ago, the Office of Civil Rights found our school personally responsible for the mishandling of several Title IX cases, prompting the reopening of 23 cases and the signing of a “voluntary resolution agreement” designed to require UAF to comply with federal law. In the OCR’s report, we were specifically cited for allowing accused parties rights that were not offered to people filing a complaint.

The contradiction here is perturbing. UA System President Johnsen said in recent a News-Miner article that the university was committed to complying with changes as they happen, so if Title IX guidelines are going to be overturned or outright cast aside what does that mean for our university? Is our agreement with the government overturned as well and, if so, do we go back to putting trust in the system that went on mishandling cases for years at a time?

If DeVos and her staff rescind current protocol and we do go back to our previous Title IX review process, we’re going back to a system that has failed students in responsiveness.

On Dec. 3, 1982, then Assistant Dean of Students Dick Stenard was asked by a Sun Star reporter whether or not sexual assault was a problem at our university. His answer was as follows:

“‘Of course it is,’ he said. ‘If you even have one incident, it’s a problem. And we don’t know how big the problem really is.'”

The honesty of this statement astounds me. I came across this article last year while editing copy and trying to transcribe articles from our archives and still, today, I am filled with awe at Stenard’s straightforward answer.

Last year, while working on stories pertaining to Title IX cases our staff ran up against repeated issues with university administration. Phone calls would go unanswered and emails would be resent while our writers waited for months to hear back about interview requests. When we did manage to arrange meetings, we were told extensively about the Title IX process while we were refused answers about ongoing cases.

If someone had spoken to me, one of my colleagues, or a classmate with a response as frank as the response Stenard gave decades ago, I might have asked them to repeat themselves because, I wouldn’t believe what I was hearing. As a reporter and student, I don’t believe we should have to beg for our administrators to be willing to admit that something is gravely wrong with our system.

We have Health and Counseling off of Chandalar Dr. with options set up for students who need support. There are also advocacy and outreach centers in Wood Center, but even that can feel dubious when all options to file a report lead back to our police station and our turbulent Title IX Office. I have no solution that can stop sexual assault in it’s tracks, no magic answer which could resolve the issue, but I write with our administration in mind when I echo Stenard’s sentiment in this column.

If we have even one incident, there is a problem and the students know that already. I just request that, especially in such uncertain times, our administrators be candid and open with us.