Two years ago, degree-seeking students entering the University of Alaska were not required to complete training on sexual assault prevention. At the same time, a 2016 study by the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center estimated that one in nine UA students had experienced sexual misconduct, sexual assault or both. In 2014, the Office for Civil Rights began a compliance review of the university that found that the UA System had “violated Title IX with respect [to] its response to sexual harassment complaints.”
In the fall of 2017, the University of Alaska underwent a hasty implementation of mandatory Title IX: Sex and Gender Based Discrimination Prevention training in an effort to meet an OCR deadline. UA was required to send OCR documentation that showed how the university was training students on sexual assault prevention by Dec. 30 of that same year.
The university is required to be proactive about preventing sexual misconduct under Title IX which states, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The OCR review into the university and the implementation of the mandatory Title IX training are directly related. In 2017, the university signed the Voluntary Resolution Agreement with the OCR. This contract requires the university to do everything from creating a chief Title IX officer position and revising sex discrimination policies to implementing mandatory sexual assault prevention training for all students, staff and faculty.
One of the problems UA Title IX officials first encountered was that the VRA assumes the complying college has a traditional student population where things like annual in-person orientations occur. Students are supposed to attend “information sessions” that bring awareness to the prohibition of sex discrimination and teach students how to recognize and prevent sexual misconduct under the requirements of the VRA.
Chief Title IX Officer, Mary Gower, said the university chose to use a system-wide online training to be more accessible to the average UA student. In-person training is also available at all of the main UA campuses.
Last year UAA faced mixed response to the training from faculty and students. Some students stated that the training was retraumatizing for survivors of sexual misconduct, and so the College of Health released a letter that included an option for students to “opt-out” of the training. That “opt-out” is still available for students this year and can found on the webpage of the Office of Equity and Compliance. Opt-out forms submitted last year are carried over to this year, according to UAA Prevention and Education Coordinator in the Office of Equity and Compliance Bridget Coffou.
Last year, UAA struggled to juggle conflicting priorities in maintaining enrollment and reaching 100 percent completion for student training. Last year’s trainings had unclear consequences for not taking the training, that were later amended to prevent students from withdrawing from the university. The initial consequence for failing to complete it by the fall deadline was to have a hold placed on a student’s account. This meant that students would be unable to register for spring classes, continue to live in student housing or withdraw from fall courses. The administration later amended the consequence so that the holds were only active until after priority registration periods had passed.
This year, UAA has stated that the consequence for failing to take an in-person training, complete online training or fill out the opt-out form by the Nov. 2 deadline would be a priority registration hold. The hold will be lifted after priority registration ends at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 25.
Last year, UAA students had the highest rate of training completion out of all the main administrative units at 86 percent. 69 percent of UAF student completed the training by Nov. 9 and 62 percent of UAS students completed the training.
Coffou is responsible for leading the in-person sexual assault prevention training. In-person training will be held Monday from Sept. 24 – Oct. 29, 5-6 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 16 – 23, 2-3 p.m. in the Student Union Leadership Lab, according to an email sent from the Office of Equity and Compliance to the UAA student population.
This is one of the first pieces in the Red Zone Series. Next week will be about how Title IX has changed at UAA since the OCR compliance review in 2014.