The University of Alaska Board of Regents held a full board meeting in Juneau on Sept. 14. Among the items discussed was the UA’s progress and performance on compliance with the Office of Civil Rights Voluntary Resolution Agreement, an agreement that the University of Alaska entered earlier this year in February.
The VRA covers system-wide compliance items and steps to ensure that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are being handled effectively on campuses. Ron Kamahele, acting Title IX coordinator and director of Equity and Compliance, said that, via scorecard, each UA campus can report to the Board of Regents as a way to present their progress with compliance.
“The scorecard was created by the university so that the president and each of the chancellors could report out to the Board of Regents about how we are complying with the Voluntary Resolution Agreement,” Kamahele said. “Each one of those items is something that is listed in the [VRA] for the Office of Civil Rights.”
A scorecard contains items and tasks that the OCR requires each university to meet in order to fulfill the VRA. Additionally, the scorecard indicates the status of submission to and approval by the OCR, along with metrics that demonstrate the various types of reports that were made based on sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking, dating or domestic violence and others.
All three campuses, UAA, UAF and UAS, submitted scorecards for the academic year 2017-2018 that were discussed during the Sept. 14 Board of Regents meeting.
Out of 18 items, UAA was rated green/fully-on-track for 16 items. The other two items were rated yellow, which means “moving forward but with challenges,” according to Kamahele. UAF and UAS were rated green for all but four items, which were yellow.
Each item requires a different deadline and for some of those which were marked yellow, completion is not necessary until December. Still, Kamahele said, the Title IX office works hard to ensure that every task is completed in a timely manner.
Fortunately, the entire UA system’s performance has improved over the last few years, Kamahele said.
“Starting in 2014, the university underwent an OCR review, which was a wake up call of areas the university needed to improve. The review was the catalyst that allowed us to identify our mistakes and make improvements,” Kamahele said. “The university has made significant progress: the approval of new Title IX policy and regulations, mandatory Title IX training for employees and degree-seeking students and students living on campus.”
Alec Burris, USUAA president, still has some concerns regarding future performance, particularly within UAA’s own Title IX office. One issue Burris has seen involves Action A4 on the scorecard, which requires that all contact information, such as office address, email address and phone number of the Title IX Coordinator, be published. Ron Kamahele has been the interim director and coordinator in Bridget Dooley’s place since mid-August and the posted phone number leads to Dooley’s voicemail.
This limits a student’s ability to immediately reach the coordinator, Burris said.
“Action Item A4… does give me concern as was brought up in the USUAA meeting, where a number for the Title IX coordinator actually just goes to a voicemail right now, and then the interim Title IX coordinator simply checks that voicemail at the end of the day,” Burris said. “If a student has a serious Title IX concern, they want to talk to a human and not simply just a voicemail. That is something that I think is very concerning.”
It is important to have a designated Title IX coordinator who can focus their time and dedication to appropriate outreach, Burris said.
The Title IX Student Feedback Committee is a sub-committee of the UAA Title IX Campus Climate Committee, which is required under Action Item G on the scorecard. Universities are expected to have committees that represent the student body and can help implement ways to communicate the rights and resources that students have.
Hilary Huffman, anthropology major, is the Student Feedback Committee chair and had initially joined while beginning her thesis on sexual violence on campus. She said that in her experience, the university has proven to be devoted to students’ safety.
“I think that our university is really dedicated to doing things right,” Huffman said. “I’ve been really impressed with not just how much the Title IX people care, but how much the campus cares.”
The committee will be holding two sessions, one in October and one in November, to discuss recommendations for Chancellor Sam Gingerich regarding Title IX. Huffman encourages students to take action.
“You don’t have to be super driven about this particular issue to have a voice for it to be important. If you are a student and this affects you and you’re interested in having a voice, I think that’s really important,” Huffman said. “We want to have all those diverse perspectives.”
Burris also hopes that more students will take part in the committees that address Title IX issues.
“I just sent out an email to approximately 800 residential students, inviting them to join the Campus Climate Committee, and I’ve gotten a good four or five responses right now. I’m hoping that I’ll get some more in the future,” Burris said.
Kamahele said that the university will continue to comply with the VRA and uphold policies established by the Board of Regents.
“The university sets the bar higher than compliance — we are working to not only comply with OCR’s directives, but to do what is right. For that reason, it is unlikely that the university will be out of compliance,” Kamahele said.
Federal funding, such as student financial aid, can be withdrawn if a university is found to be non-compliant, but Kamahele is confident that the UA system will work to stay within regulations of the VRA and maintain safety on campus.
“In that agreement, we agree to do all those things that are listed there. If we don’t, then we would be in breach of that contract and the Office of Civil Rights could, in theory, take action, and the main action they have is to deny the University of Alaska eligibility to receive federal funds,” Kamahele said. “And when they say federal funds, they’re talking about student financial aid. If we fail to comply in some of these things, then that means no more Pell Grants for anybody. [It’s] catastrophic, so we’re still going to do all those things.”
Despite the ratings and statuses of the different campuses within the UA system, there is still a push for education, outreach and a commitment to providing resources surrounding Title IX for students. Huffman and Burris are continuing their efforts towards student involvement, and Kamahele will remain interim coordinator until further notice from the university.
The University of Alaska system conducts these progress reports for the Board of Regents quarterly, and current scorecards can be viewed online under the Title IX Compliance webpage.