As Rollins' new Title IX coordinator, Diane Willingham is working to improve protection against sexual misconduct and discrimination on campus.
(Photo by Scott Cook) Title IX is known to many for its aims of creating equality for women’s college sports programs. Recently, the federal program’s administrators alerted colleges to re-emphasize the fact that Title IX also requires colleges to work to prevent and address all forms of sexual misconduct. As part of Rollins’ commitment to that goal, the College recently established the position of Title IX coordinator. Here, we recently asked the new coordinator, Diane Willingham, to describe some of the goals and efforts that her office will oversee.
Jay Hamburg: You’ve been at Rollins for 10 years, and spent the last seven of those years as the director of community standards and responsibility. When did you start in the new position of Title IX coordinator? What will be your primary responsibilities?
Diane Willingham: I began my new position on June 1, 2014. As the director of community standards and responsibility, I had worked on behalf of our Title IX efforts and developed a sincere interest in our compliance efforts. My main focus moving forward will be building on the foundation set by Maria Martinez, assistant vice president for human resources and risk management, improving our grievance procedures, and advancing Title IX education and prevention programs on campus.
JH: Most people think of Title IX in terms of women in sports. When did it expand to include areas of sexual assault and harassment? And why?
DW: While Title IX is widely thought about in terms of gender equity in sports, it has always applied to more than just athletics. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in educational program and activities. In April 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a statement which clarified that sex discrimination includes all forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence. Under Title IX, the College is obligated to take appropriate action to end misconduct, prevent its reoccurrence, and address its effects.
JH: Does Title IX apply to all students regardless of gender or sexual orientation? Does it protect faculty and staff?
DW: Title IX protects all individuals on our campus—students, faculty, and staff—and applies regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
JH: How does Title IX improve safety, and how does it protect those who report incidents?
DW: Rollins takes the wellbeing of our campus community members very seriously. As an institution, we are committed to creating and maintaining a safe learning environment that is free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, and violence. It is my hope that individuals who have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct will seek support with a confidential resource and/or file a report with the College. Reporting incidents of sexual misconduct allows the College to take corrective action, which can include removing individuals who pose an ongoing threat to the Rollins community. All individuals involved in a report of sexual misconduct and harassment will receive equal care and attention.
JH: I understand that Rollins will be hiring a part-time investigator, who will be based on campus, to look into any complaints. What categories of complains will be investigated? And why is it important for the College to have its own investigator (rather than go through Winter Park Police)?
DW: Under Title IX, the College is obligated to conduct its own investigations, even if there is a concurrent criminal investigation. That is so members of the community may choose to report the incident only to the College without involving law enforcement. We are in the process of hiring a part-time Title IX investigator, who will be responsible for investigating all allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment.
JH: How will incidents of assault or harassment be reported? Are all incidents automatically reported to campus police, the Winter Park Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies?
DW: There are a variety of ways an individual can report incidents of sexual misconduct or harassment. He or she can report by sharing information directly with me, campus safety, or any faculty or staff member (with the exception of faculty and staff members with confidentiality). All reports will be forwarded to the Title IX coordinator. Incidents are not automatically reported to the Winter Park Police Department. The Title IX coordinator or a campus safety officer can assist individuals with filing a police report, if they choose.
JH: I understand that changes are being made to the way the College investigates and resolves complaints of sexual misconduct and harassment. Can you share information about these changes?
DW: In prior years, allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment involving students were investigated by the campus safety office. At the conclusion of the investigation, the report was forwarded to the Office of Community Standards and Responsibility for adjudication using the student hearing process. While this procedure met the requirements of Title IX, we decided to make changes based on feedback from students and best practices. As I mentioned, we are hiring a part-time Title IX investigator. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator will make a finding, using the preponderance of evidence standard. If the investigator determines the student is responsible, the Office of Community Standards and Responsibility will issue sanctions. Our new process will limit the number of times individuals involved have to tell their story while helping to ensure privacy.
JH: What if a student would like to talk with someone confidentially about an incident of sexual misconduct and harassment without triggering a report to the College?
DW: Members of our community have always had access to confidentiality resources in the Wellness Center with whom they can speak without triggering an investigation by the College. We will be bolstering our resources by adding confidential advocates outside of the Wellness Center as well. These confidentiality advocates will be available to review options with students and connect them to resources without triggering a report to the College.
JH: Have incidents of sexual assault and/or harassment gone up or down on campus? Is there a new reporting system that makes it more likely for incidents to be reported. Does that account for any recent increase or decrease?
DW: There has been an increase in the number of reports of sexual misconduct and harassment over the past few years. This does not necessarily mean that the number of incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment has increased; rather, it means that more of these incidents are being reported to the College as a result of our ongoing education and training initiatives.
JH: How does Rollins compare with other campuses in such incidents per capita?
DW: I believe that Rollins is no different from other college campuses across the country when it comes to issues of sexual violence. We do a thorough job of collecting data from a variety of sources (including collecting stats without identifying information from confidential resources) to provide a more accurate picture of the type and frequency of incidents that have occurred on campus. This information is provided to the campus community to allow them to make informed decision about their personal safety and is used by the College to inform our prevention and care efforts.
JH: How does Title IX create a safer environment for members of the Rollins community?
DW: We are taking a three-prong approach. First, the primary prevention programming is designed to help prevent sexual misconduct and other high-risk behaviors that research shows is associated with sexual misconduct. This programming also includes bystander intervention training designed to give students skills to intervene. Second, faculty and staff members have received training and understand their reporting obligations. First responders will receive training in trauma-informed response. Third, the College has procedures in place to take action to end sexual misconduct, prevent its reoccurrence, and address its effects.
JH: Where can students go for more information?
DW: I am in the process of revamping the College’s Title IX website to provide comprehensive information in an easy-to-read format. The website will include information that is helpful for all members of the community, regardless of whether they have experienced sexual misconduct, have been accused of sexual misconduct, are supporting a friend who experienced sexual misconduct, or witnessed sexual misconduct. We will be developing additional materials and training opportunities to increase awareness across campus.