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Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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AU will launch an equity and Title IX office in the fall

New office will handle discrimination and sexual misconduct complaints

President Sylvia Burwell announced the creation of a new office on Thursday that will handle complaints related to racism, discrimination, harassment and sexual assault. 

The Office of Equity and Title IX will replace the current Title IX office. It will receive additional funding compared to its predecessor, and the staff will grow to include five full-time members, according to Seth Grossman, Burwell's chief of staff and counselor. The office will also enhance education and training in anti-discrimination for students, staff and faculty. 

Prior to the creation of the Office of Equity and Title IX, complaints from students, staff and faculty were all handled in different offices. Students reported to the Title IX office, while Human Resources handled staff complaints, and the Provost and Dean of Faculty offices dealt with faculty complaints. The new Office of Equity and Title IX will handle complaints from all members of the AU community. 

Burwell said in her email that the creation of the office will “provide a direct avenue for individual concerns to be promptly and meaningfully addressed; enhance our approach to preventing and responding to discrimination, harassment and sexual assault complaints; and provide everyone in our community with a space to be heard.”

The new office aims to bring together responsibilities, currently spread out across the University, including anti-discriminatory training, handling Title IX complaints and responding to instances of racism and discrimination. 

“Often, the complaints involve different types of discrimination. Separating those out prevented the University from having an approach to address multiple grounds of discrimination,” Grossman said. 

All students, faculty and staff, including the new office’s staff, will receive training in the fall, according to Grossman. That includes specialized training for different groups like members of sports teams and Greek life organizations. Details of the training will be worked out by the new office and its assistant vice president.

A new assistant vice president for equity and Title IX officer will lead the office, and the University is currently searching internally and externally for candidates, Burwell wrote. According to Grossman, the new assistant vice president, who will also hold a position in the president’s cabinet, will be in place when the office launches on Aug. 14, or shortly thereafter.

Despite recent student outcry over how the University handles instances of discrimination and sexual violence, Grossman said that the creation of this office is not directly in response to calls for increased University support for victims. The new office, which is a part of AU’s Inclusive Excellence plan, has been in the works for about a year. 

“The office is in response to feedback we’ve gotten over a long period of time about complaints about how complaints related to Title IX and instances of racial discrimination have been handled,” Grossman said. “This is critical and has informed the work of the office.”

Some students say that the University can do more to support victims in the community. Jeremy Ward, executive director of AU Democrats, is concerned that since the old Title IX office was “not effective,” he’s unsure if adding responsibilities to the office will help streamline complaints and adjudication.

“They have to have honest conversations with many different communities on campus and those conversations need to start now instead of waiting for the office to be established because a lot of whatever work is done by that office is going to be set up on how it is created,” Ward said. 

Student leaders are also calling for more steps to be taken.

“I definitely believe this is a great step in the right direction for AU. But the work is far from over,” said AUSG Comptroller Justin Levine, who is serving as interim president. “It’s vital to believe the students who came forward and shared their stories on campus, but it's also important to discuss what’s next.”

Editor’s note: This podcast discusses topics like suicide, sexual abuse and violence.

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