by Gabriel Sandoval
As the nation reckons with a steady stream of stories about high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct, women are sharing their own stories on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.
The movement toward reporting and confronting sexual misconduct has for years been gaining momentum on college campuses. Today, many students are comfortable reporting sexual violence, says Dylan Saake, Chico State’s coordinator for compliance with the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX. To be in compliance, colleges must provide students safe learning environments, free of gender-based discrimination, and respond promptly and equitably if sexual misconduct is reported.
At Chico State, the number of reported cases of alleged sexual misconduct has increased more than 23 percent since last year. Its second-ever Title IX Activity Reporting report, published in October, shows Chico State received 53 reports of various kinds of sexual misconduct from July 1, 2016, to June 30, in contrast to 43 reports over the same period a year prior.
ChicoSol interviewed Saake to talk about high-profile cases of impropriety, reports of sexual misconduct at Chico State and Title IX enforcement changes under the Trump administration.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
What are your thoughts on all these stories involving powerful men being accused by women in their respective fields of inappropriate sexual behavior?
What we’re seeing, both on campus and other places, people are feeling more comfortable sharing what their experiences have been. And to think it’s something that only occurs in certain places is a mistake. These things are happening all over the place.
What do you think is causing this comfort? What’s bringing about this change?
Part of it is the spotlight, and as more and more people come forward, it sparks other people to do the same. To feel that there is an environment out there where you’re going to be heard, and potentially believed, makes it easier to share your story.
Chico State’s second Title IX Activity Reporting report came out in October. Could you tell us about the report and its biggest takeaways?
We have published a report related to the number of reports that we have received, potential Title IX violations. In this instance, we really focus on what we would call sexual misconduct, which is rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, dating or domestic violence and stalking. And we really focus on those complaints. That is what we publish in the report.
There (were) more people who came forward wanting the campus to pursue a formal investigation, and that was kind of the area that saw our biggest increase percentage-wise. We went from 5 to 15, so a significant increase in folks asking for us to pursue in that way.
Overall, we saw more people coming forward, wanting resources and accommodations. People are reporting those to more faculty and staff, (who) are more informed on sending them to resources we have on campus and sending them information. And as I’ve said before, we think it’s a positive sign that more people are coming forward. I want to believe … it’s because people are more comfortable reporting and not that there are more incidents happening. I still don’t think we’re fully capturing the scope of what’s happening.
This year’s report says last year’s report erroneously included the number of sexual harassment cases reported. Why were these cases erroneously reported?
We have a policy that’s very clear about which reports (the CSU) wants in here. I included sexual harassment last year because it seemed relevant. To be consistent with other campuses and system-wide, to look at what it is across the system, we all need to report the same data.
In the recent report, there were 53 reports of sexual misconduct received by the Title IX office. What would that number be if it included the number of sexual harassment reports?
I’d have to comb through the data. It would be higher. There were sexual harassment reports.
In 2014, Chico State failed a state audit (along with UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Diego State University) because it didn’t adequately educate employees on how to handle reports of sexual misconduct. The audit said victims of sexual misconduct felt discouraged from filing reports. Since then, what has Chico State done to address the audit’s findings?
A lot of things – and the system has responded similarly.
There (were) a lot of areas that were noted for improvement and we have tried to live up to those areas. One thing, we have an annual training requirement for all students, and every student gets a training, and it’s more extensive if it’s your first time on campus versus if you’re returning. But that has been rolled out campus-wide. We have training focused on (resident advisers, who) are in places that receive a lot of reports and are first-responders. We train them twice a year. We train our Greek communities and our athletes, high-risk groups, clubs. We really made an effort to get information and training out to students so they know what their options are. And you couple that with the training we do for staff and faculty about their reporting obligations and the resources that we do have and how to get people and information directed to the folks who can respond. All of those things, in many different iterations, are responsive to the audit, but also just best practice.
Are there any plans to increase awareness?
One thing we are excited about is, this April 9 through 29, we will be launching a campus climate survey focusing on incidents, community attitudes and behaviors, willingness to be a bystander, healthy relationships, and really creating a baseline about where we are. So, we will be surveying every student. Of course, every student will not necessarily respond, but we’re really trying to reach out and have a campaign around that and build towards that survey in April. We’re hoping that will give us a better idea of the scope of what we’re talking about, assuming we’re only reaching a faction of it. I think we’ll learn more about it from the survey and then make some adjustments as well. That will be the first time for our campus.
The other thing we have implemented is a prevention program called the Green Dot program, which focuses on bystander intervention and we have been in the process of a slow roll out of that program.
Let’s shift our focus a bit. During the Obama administration, the federal Education Department issued guidance on Title IX enforcement, in the form of its “Dear colleague letter,” which asked colleges to adopt a “preponderance of evidence” standard when investigating sexual-misconduct allegations. In September, the Trump administration’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, rescinded that guidance and gave colleges new directions on Title IX enforcement, which say colleges have the option to use the minimal standard or the “clear and convincing” standard, which is higher (though still lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar for criminal cases). What evidence standard is Chico State using now, and why?
We use preponderance of the evidence, and we have for some time. I don’t anticipate that changing. We have system-wide policies that dictate that. When you look at the new guidance that came out, one of the criticisms was … (at some colleges) certain misconducts had a different standard of proof, and (the Education Department is) saying it needs to be the same no matter what you do. So, we do that. We use preponderance of evidence consistently across the board. Preponderance of evidence is the standard used in civil courts across the country. It is not a foreign benchmark.
Some higher education leaders, including Allen Renville, Butte College’s former Title IX coordinator, have said that colleges should be using a higher threshold of proof. One argument is that the lower standard, which Chico State uses, isn’t exactly fair for the accused.
We look at the liberty interest or the interests that are at stake, and obviously, if you’re in criminal court and you’re found guilty, you could potentially lose your liberty and go to jail. In civil court, you lose money. (Chico State uses) preponderance of evidence; you lose an educational opportunity. And so, it’s significant, but it is obviously not that same as (losing) your liberty. I understand that there is an argument to be made. The stakes are high. It matters to students, for sure, but I don’t see a problem with using the preponderance of the evidence.
Will anything else change for Chico State under the new guidance?
Our policy is already complaint with the new guidance. One of the things we have very much created is an equal opportunity to see all the evidence that the findings are going to be based on, and both parties have that. Both parties can appeal. Both parties can then appeal the sanction that follows it. So really, the opportunity to understand the evidence, respond to it, appeal the findings that are made are pretty equal across the board, and that’s really what I think the guidance was responding to, allegations of the investigation process being skewed one way or another. As long as we comply with what our policies are, we’re there.
About a year ago, you were quoted in a story in the Chico News & Review, predicting that sexual misconduct reports would increase. You were right. What might we expect to see next year?
My guess is more of the same, both nationally and on campus. I think the national conversation is obviously increasing, as are the reports that we hear about on campus. We’re busy.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re excited about what we can learn from the climate survey. On our campus, we have a newly hired advocate in Safe Place who brings a lot of experience and, so far, has been a great resource for victims. We have our CLIC department as a resource for students who are accused of misconduct. There’s a long way to go, but we have people who are motivated and trying to make interpersonal violence a thing of the past and something we don’t accept at Chico State.
Gabriel Sandoval is a senior journalism major at Chico State and a ChicoSol intern.