By Darby Murnane Assistant Editor
UMF administration, though proactive in response to discussions of sexual misconduct, is still under scrutiny from the UMF community as they continue fighting for changes that will better the pursuit of justice in allegations of Title IX violations. Look Us In the Eyes (LUITE), a student coalition, has continually met with the President’s Council to promote transparency between administration and students.
LUITE is not seeking an overhaul of UMS policies, but for better enforcement of current ones. “I think UMF got lazy,” said Amy Fortier-Brown, leader of LUITE, in an email interview. “We have a Student Code of Conduct and federal laws that protect students on UMF’s campus when they are assaulted. The school just hasn’t done their job in the past of enforcing them.”
Dr. Kelly Bentley, Associate Professor of Community Health and key faculty member in the composition of Dr. Karol Maybury’s Open Letter to Students, calls for more enduring actions from administration. “Campus sexual violence is also about culture,” Bentley said. “So something that is missing at this stage is a really big, overall strategic plan to address healthy relationships. Unless we create an overall culture [of respect on campus], and that’s… a long-term thing, research has shown we won’t have significant success.” Her research finds that scattered events like panels and documentary screenings are ineffective in creating the necessary change in culture.
As Bentley’s area of expertise is gender-based violence with scholarship in domestic and intimate partner violence, she feels the conversation misses key elements. “I’m shocked that there seems to be such an extreme focus on sexual assault without discussing relationship violence, because for the most part sexual assault is perpetrated by someone you know. When we don’t talk about healthy relationships and relationship violence, there’s a disservice and we’re missing things.”
Her claims are supported by a 2018 report from the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, which found that of Maine’s total homicides, 43% were domestic. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence webpage also cites that one in four women and one in seven men have “experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”
Bentley also expressed concern for the lack of LGBTQ+ perspectives; she says the majority of student feedback has been from those identifying as heterosexual. “We are looking at violence from a white, hetero-normative sexual assault perspective. We don’t include relationship violence; we haven’t opened [the conversation] up to include thoughts from other groups that should be a part of it.”
Faculty and LUITE are advocating for a health and wellness class for first-year students that emphasizes healthy relationships and sexual consent as part of evidence-based prevention programming. This would bring awareness about Title IX rights to students.
“I think the most important thing is for students to really understand Title IX and all its intricacies because it’s not as easy as just reporting,” Bentley said.
LUITE has pushed administration and Title IX coordinators to make a flow-chart outlining reporting options and processes, but no such document has been released. “My understanding is that the flow chart is stuck in bureaucratic limbo,” said Fortier-Brown. “I don’t expect to see it this semester, if at all.”
Bentley hopes for more proactive staff positions at UMF to prevent such standstills. “There’s a difference between someone who coordinates Title IX and just says, ‘I’ll take your report and I’ll follow through,’ and someone that coordinates health and wellness on campus,” she said.
Fortier-Brown recently outlined such a position, proposing that the administration employ a student advocate. “It was received well. My hope is that it will actually become something and replace CVPC,” she said.
Interim President Dr. Eric Brown said in an email interview that he plans to use part of the $3.3 million anonymous gift to hire a fourth mental health counselor and establish current counselor Sarah Carnahan as leader of an “advisory/advocacy group on Title IX and campus violence . . . This group will consolidate the diverse interests working now on these issues and be the spearhead for future programming and for making sure the momentum we currently have is not dissipated.”
Brown has also continued the process of amending section VII. A. of the Student Code of Conduct so it will be standard practice for a review panel to hear final Title IX appeals as opposed to one person. “I expect it will be formally adopted by mid-April,” he said.
Fortier-Brown and Bentley are optimistic about the direction in which UMF is heading, believing that the administration is more receptive now than it has been.