Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
Title IX is a federal law that protects individuals at federally-funded institutions like UMF from discrimination including sexual harassment and assault as these impede on a person’s participation in education. When students experience sexual harassment and/or assault on campus, they have the option of reporting their case to mandated reporters who include the majority of faculty, staff, certain students employees, volunteers and peer advocates.
“The only people out of this list who are not mandated reporters are the mental health counselors in the Center for Student Development, the UMF Health Center Staff, and Athletic Trainers when they are working in their Athletic Training capacity,” said Hope Shore, Assistant Director of Student Life & Deputy Title IX Coordinator through an email interview.
When a student reports an incident, the mandated reporter must then inform Shore of the incident.
“I will then reach out to the student to see if they would like to meet,” Shore said. “If the student is interested, I will provide them with information about resources, support, campus policies and procedures and available accommodations.”
Students or anyone concerned with an incident may bypass a mandated reporter by filling out the Title IX Incident Reporting Form online located on MyCampus under the Campus Safety tab or through the UMF Title IX website. This online form allows individuals to file their incident anonymously.
Franklin Hall, Counseling is located on the second floor (Photo courtesy of Andrea Swiedom).
Individuals can also report an incident directly to Shore, which is what a group of students did in Dec. 2018 after encountering several occurrences of sexual harassment from the same individual.
The group of students will remain anonymous for their protection as the Flyer staff is aware of their identities and is confident in the credibility of their stories.
The group created a form for everyone involved to fill out and turn into Shore that described their experiences with this individual. One of the students involved expected the incident to be filed under the group’s name. However, even if a case is recorded with a group, each person’s case is treated as an individual report.
Although students have no obligation to go any further once an incident has been brought to Shore’s attention, one of the members of the group that reported the harassment decided to proceed with the Title IX process. “I can back out at any point, but since I knew others were moving forward, I was going to move forward,” they said.
After the group filed their statement, the student met with Shore one-on-one to continue with the process. “I got this big folder of information and she basically told me that she would make the decision on who she would kind of push my case to next and it ended up going to Christine Wilson,” said the student.
They met with Wilson, the Vice President of Student Affairs, to provide yet another statement that would determine whether or not the case would receive a full investigation. “It felt very official, kind of intimidatingly official,” the student said. “I thought I was just meeting with Christine, but when I got there, there was another woman directly connected with Title IX who was just there for recording.”
The student was allowed to bring a person along for support while giving their official statement. “They were not allowed to say anything, but they were allowed to just be there, which I thought was a really nice thing that you can do,” they said.
The incident was warranted a full investigation at the end of January. They were anxious and afraid while awaiting a verdict as they still had to function in classes, school activities and live on campus around the accused individual.
“I don’t want this to last the entire semester. I just wish they had given me a rough timeline. It’s just, you’ll hear from us when you hear from us,” they said.
Shore’s office also provides students with the option to file a No-Contact order, which prohibits the accused from interacting with the accuser until a verdict is reached. However, the No-Contact order has its limitations.
The student described an interaction they had recently in the Student Center with the individual whom they filed the complaint against, while tabling for a club. “He decided to walk right up to the table to start talking to a person next to me. I asked Hope if this breaks the No-Contact order and she said no. I was having a panic attack and I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” they said.
Whether or not students go through with the Title IX process, there are several support resources available on campus that Shore reviews with students during initial meetings. “[Shore] asked me if I knew what services are available. I kind of knew, but at the same time I didn’t,” the student said. “I still said that I knew because I didn’t want to be there, but at the same time, I know that the counselors in Franklin have a month-long waiting list.”
None of the counselors were available for an interview, but students can visit the counseling services website for more information or visit their office on the second floor of Franklin Hall, which is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Counseling Center also provides emergency walk-in hours that students may take advantage of at any time.
Shawna Austin, SAPARS Associate Director (Photo Courtesy of Shawna Austin).
There is also a confidential, free drop-in support service available in room 112 in the Student Center every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services (SAPARS). “This is a specific time where an advocate can be accessible to answer questions, be a listening ear, and/or work together with students to engage in awareness raising events and/or other projects,” said Associate Director of SAPARS Shawna Austin in an email interview.
SAPARS isn’t affiliated with UMF, but offers an impressive amount of free and confidential support services, including a 24-hour helpline (1-800-871-7741) to assist anyone affected by sexual harassment and/or assault, support groups, and a Sexual Assault Response Team well-versed in legal procedures that will even accompany individuals to police stations.
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.
By Avery Ryan Contributing Writer
In light of recent perspectives of sexual assault on campus, I found myself horrified and at a loss for words. Over the past three and a half years that I spent at UMF, I had seen the school as incredibly safe. I thought that extreme cases of sexual violence and injustice were something that happened “elsewhere,” and that my little campus was immune to – and absent of – these issues.
My ignorance has reached its end. I can no longer unconsciously pretend that these problems do not exist on my campus. I had to take a long look at myself to understand why I was unaware of these problems, and what I could do to contribute to their reduction.
One of the reasons why I was so unaware of these issues was my own safety regarding sexual violence. Anybody can be a victim of sexual assault, and that fact cannot be understated. However, as a tall, broad-shouldered white man who doesn’t go out much, my chances are falling victim to sexual assault are incredibly slim. This narrow probability limited my perspective. If I didn’t have to be cautious of the signs of predation, why should I have known what they are, or be able to recognize them? Through my privilege I am allowed a barrier of safety that is incredibly difficult to empathize through.
Stepping into the shoes of somebody who is absent of this privilege is difficult, but allows for a bit of understanding in what the possession of this privilege means. I can go for a run at night without being afraid, I can put my drink down at a party with little fear, I’ve never been catcalled while walking to class, and I’ve never been faced with abrasive flirtatiousness at my workplace. These examples only scratch the surface, but the discomfort they cause cannot be invalidated.
If your immediate response is to argue with these examples, take a second to think about why. Is it the word “privilege?” Do you think that catcalling is “fun,” or that the person being yelled at should “take it as a compliment?” Do you find nothing wrong with being flirted with while you’re at work?
If you feel abrasion towards “privilege,” – why? Does the word make you feel as if your accomplishments are not earned, or that you have a certain allowance provided to you by biological traits that you can’t control? This negative perspective is incredibly damaging, and is certainly incorrect. By acknowledging privilege you are not losing recognition of your successes. By acknowledging privilege you are allowing yourself to see the world as if you didn’t have that benefit.
Step into the shoes of the employee being flirted with at work: you’re in a place of obligation, trying to do your job. You have nowhere to go to remove yourself from this conversation, and the pervasive flirtatiousness is making you uncomfortable. However, you are also a customer service representative— another reason why you cannot end the conversation. You are trapped and uncomfortable. Is this something that happens to men as well? Totally. But the frequency and intensity of these moments is multiplied by one’s gender.
Coincidentally, as the courageous victims of sexual assault have made their stories heard, Gillette released the ad campaign “The Best Men Can Be.” This campaign analyzed decades of stereotypical masculinity in advertising, and Gillette pledged to make strides in distancing themselves from various aspects of toxicity in its advertising. This campaign was met with various negative – and occasionally aggressive – feedback on social media. The responses fought against the ad, labeling it as propaganda and inappropriate for Gillette to comment upon such topics. Despite this criticism, the campaign’s focus is on sexual harassment and bullying— acts that should be universally agreed upon preventing. The campaign takes a firm stance on men needing to hold other men accountable for their behavior and asks that we make strides toward redefining our characteristics of masculinity.
The timing of this campaign, while coincidental, is inarguably eye-opening. Sexual assault and harassment is present everywhere, and its existence on our campus requires significant action from all parties that hold a semblance of responsibility. For men on campus, it is necessary that we take a stance on holding our friends accountable for their actions. We can no longer tolerate moments of toxicity that would previously labeled as “just guys being guys.”
The darkness in each of these survivor’s stories is incredibly disheartening, and in many ways it is frustrating to feel helpless in contributing to solutions. However, by holding each other accountable for our words and actions we can contribute in some way to making our campus a safer place.