A female student tells a faculty member of inappropriate touching that took place at an off-campus internship. An assistant professor fears bad committee assignments are the result of sexual harassment by the department chair. A student complains of harassment and blames a classroom discussion of same-sex marriage.
As faculty, what do you do?
Discussion of how to handle those hypothetical episodes dominated the Faculty Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, which provided the setting for a first-time summit of the campuses’ four Title IX coordinators.
At the invitation of Faculty Council Chair Laura Borgelt, the four – Raul Cardenas, CU Denver; Regina Kilkenny, CU Anschutz Medical Campus; Julia Paris, UCCS; and Valerie Simons, CU-Boulder – focused on the investigation and prevention of sexual misconduct at CU, emphasizing cases involving students and the obligation of faculty to report.
The presentation during the meeting at 1800 Grant St. offered scenarios that faculty might encounter, beginning with a faculty-student interaction:
- You are a faculty mentor. A female student mentions to you informally that she was inappropriately touched and talked to during an off-campus internship six months ago. She didn’t want to say anything at the time and thinks it’s too late to come forward now. She’s hesitant to raise a stink about it because it might negatively impact her career plans.
The need to report the to a campus sexual harassment officer may seem apparent, but the student’s reluctance could discourage such reporting. Still, Kilkenny said, “It is your obligation to report if you have the information. It’s not your obligation to determine whether harassment occurred.”
While reporting is vital, Simons said, the faculty member should not take that to mean a fact-finding mission must take place.
“As a faculty member and mentor, you’re trying to support (the student). But at the same time, if it looks like you’re gathering information, it can be problematic in terms of whether there is a (formal) investigation,” she said. “It can get complicated.”
Cardenas said it’s vital for students to be made aware of resources for reporting harassment, including by faculty.
“Students knowing there is a safe place to go is important – even if they don’t go forward with a complaint,” he said. “It’s still our responsibility to take some sort of action.”
The second scenario presented didn’t involve a student:
- You are an assistant professor and believe you are being sexually harassed by your department chair; she seemed to be interested in you when you first joined the university, and when she found out you were in a relationship, her behavior changed and now she seems to be finding ways to make your professional life difficult through committee assignments and a hostile attitude during department meetings.
Because no student is involved, a complaint of harassment would not fall under the Title IX umbrella. Reporting first to a campus ombudsman is advised, Simons said; such a case might be resolved informally, or it might rise to the level of sexual harassment and require a formal investigation, as per the university’s policies on sexual harassment and discrimination and harassment.
In the third scenario:
- You are a faculty member. A female student comes to you mid-semester, asking to drop the class. She states that she was at a bar off campus several days ago, had one drink, and then doesn’t remember much else. She thinks she was sexually assaulted.
“This is a pivotal moment in a student’s life,” Paris said. “What do you tell the student when she asks to drop the class?”
Because the reported assault happened off campus, the faculty obligation is to contact police in the jurisdiction of the assault location. Had such an assault been reported on campus, then campus police would need to be notified.
Once a law investigation is underway, Paris said, the student might determine there’s no need to drop the class. But a faculty member in this instance can’t pry to get at the perceived connection between the assault and the decision to drop the class. “You don’t want to ask more questions that could be considered investigatory,” she said.
The fourth scenario:
- You are a faculty member and Karl, a student in one of your classes, describes to you various conversations in his problem-based learning group. The conversations have included talk about same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and the Supreme Court, and whether the state of Colorado should allow same-sex marriages. Karl, who describes himself as homosexual, says he feels like this is sexual harassment given his sexual orientation. You disagree, because the conversations don’t sound offensive or hostile.
“This is one of the most difficult areas we deal with,” said Simons, noting the relevance of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
“Faculty have to be able to do their job,” she said. “But if there is a situation where someone is being targeted based on gender, political philosophy (or another protected class), how do you determine that?”
(Protected classes according to Regent Law: race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation, political philosophy.)
Again, faculty have an obligation to report such an instance – even if the faculty member doesn’t agree that it constitutes sexual harassment. The student could be advised to contact the Title IX coordinator, or the faculty member could inform the student that the Title IX coordinator will be contacted.
The key takeaway that the coordinators emphasized to council members: When in doubt, report – a message that they say will be articulated increasingly in the future.
“We have to do a much better job of educating and explaining what these resources are,” Cardenas said. “This is the first time the four of us have really sat and talked, and that’s thanks to you and Laura.” Kilkenny said she expects the four to meet more frequently going forward.
Contact information for the Title IX coordinators:
Raul Cardenas Jr., associate vice chancellor, Student Affairs, CU Denver Title IX coordinator, Office of the Provost, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, 303-315-2110, email@example.com
Regina Kilkenny, associate vice chancellor, Academic Resources and Services, CU Anschutz Title IX coordinator, Office of the Provost, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, 303-724-8070 at CU Anschutz Medical Campus, 303-315-2126 at CU Denver Lawrence Street Center, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julia Paris, Title IX coordinator, Discrimination and Harassment officer, Office of Discrimination and Harassment, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, 719-255-4324,email@example.com
Valerie Simons, executive director and Title IX coordinator, Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, Regent Administrative Center, University of Colorado Boulder, 303-492-2127,firstname.lastname@example.org