LINCOLN — Four students and alumni of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told the NU Board of Regents on Thursday that the university’s Title IX office failed them.
They accused UNL’s Title IX office, formally called the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, of handling sexual misconduct complaints in a bureaucratic, ineffective, cold manner. They said they found the process confusing and said staffers there sometimes used terms suggesting that victims were to blame for what befell them.
Some also said accommodations weren’t made to ensure that they wouldn’t have to see the perpetrator again.
The regents didn’t discuss the matter. A spokeswoman for UNL said the university has recently stepped up victim services.
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Title IX is a federal law that forbids discrimination in educational institutions on the basis of gender.
Tami Strickman, who coordinates Title IX efforts for UNL, couldn’t be reached by phone Thursday. A UNL spokeswoman, Deb Fiddelke, spoke for her.
“The safety of our campus and having students feel safe on campus is paramount,” Fiddelke said.
UNL leadership says it’s the Title IX office’s job to neutrally investigate accusations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual assault. If the office isn’t fully supportive, UNL has said, it’s because that isn’t its mission. That is the mission of the victims’ advocate, UNL says.
The office “has to be fair to all of the parties involved,” Fiddelke said. She referred to a USA Today article that said some universities have lost lawsuits by favoring victims and alleged victims.
The Title IX office isn’t “a one-stop shop” for complainants, she said.
“We have victim advocates, we have counseling services, we have the UNL police,” she said.
Fiddelke said UNL leadership last year put in place a full-time victims’ advocate at the student health center and two part-timers. The administration maintains that those staffers provide 80 hours a week of service to victims.
Before the 2018-19 school year, UNL had a contract with Voices of Hope, a Lincoln-based victims’ advocacy group. But that contract gave UNL only 10 hours of service, Fiddelke said.
Mar Lee, one of the students who spoke to the regents, said that Voices of Hope is available 24 hours a day and that it’s only the contract that suggests 10 hours.
Lee, of Alma, Nebraska, and others would prefer an independent victims’ advocate to one employed by and beholden to the school.
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green has met once with members of the group to which the four belong, called “Dear UNL.”
Green intends to meet with the group again in the near future.
“We felt that we were heard and that he seems to want to continue the conversation,” Lee said.
Ultimately, though, Lee said the Title IX office and UNL professors need better training in how to work with victims of sexual misconduct. Lee said Dear UNL has begun a petition drive to show UNL that her group has support.