Q&A on Faculty and Staff Reporting Sexual Violence (Title IX)

With Jaime Nolan, associate vice president of community, equity and diversity, and Donna Marie Sorrentino, Title IX coordinator

Thursday, September 8, 2016
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Thompson Hall

Q: What is Title IX?

A: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance (such as UNH). Title IX also prohibits gender-based harassment — acts that do not involve conduct of a sexual nature such as discriminatory sex stereotyping. It is not just about providing equal opportunity in athletics. It also prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence of students by faculty, staff and other students.

Q: Has the law recently changed? Why are we hearing about this all of a sudden?

A: While the federal law (Title IX) has not changed it has evolved through “guidance” from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. State law also requires university employees to report any instance of sexual harassment (including sexual violence) of a student by another employee. We have always had this obligation to report if a student discloses an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence. More than a year ago, an independent review of our Title IX compliance revealed that we needed to do more to educate our community on the obligation they have to report. We have a responsibility to our students and to our community. When there is a disclosure of an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence it becomes faculty and staff’s obligation to report, which then allows the university to meet its obligations to provide support services to those impacted by sexual violence, to make them aware of their options to seek redress, to carefully and consistently address confidentiality requests, and to take appropriate steps to protect the entire UNH community. 

Q: Who has to report? Aren’t some people exempt?

A: We all have an obligation to do what is in the best interest of our students. At UNH we believe every member of the community is obligated to report. If you know about sexual harassment, discrimination or sexual violence, we need to know what you know. We want to assist by guiding faculty and staff in supporting those who have disclosed an incident and have been impacted. The only confidential support providers are those in Health Services, the Counseling Center, SHARPP, members of the clergy and the Employee Assistance Program. Our advice is: When in doubt, call us to talk about it.

Q: Does that mean sending a student to one of those places fulfills my need to report?

A: Absolutely not. If you know about sexual harassment, discrimination based on sex or gender or sexual violence, we need to know what you know. While these confidential support services are wonderful resources, they are prevented from reporting because of professional obligations to maintain confidentiality. Referring someone to such confidential support services providers does not satisfy your reporting obligation. The information that’s been disclosed must be conveyed to the Title IX coordinator and the UNH Police.  

Q: What exactly do I have to report?

A: Any accusation or instances of sexual harassment or sexual violence. When in doubt, report. You do not have to decide whether it meets the legal definition of sexual harassment or sexual violence. Let the experts help. Donna Marie, our Title IX coordinator, has been responsible for enforcing Title IX on campus for more than a dozen years. She will listen and give guidance.

Q: Why do I have to call the Title IX coordinator and the police to make a report?

A: Both have a role to play and the law requires dual notification. Because any incident could potentially be criminal it is critical that preliminary fact-finding takes place. The goal is always to give the individual impacted more control and to empower them.

Q: Won’t this create an environment of paranoia with people being wrongly accused?

A: This work can’t be done in a silo. We take a comprehensive approach; it is not an us vs. them situation. Due process is equally important to the person being accused. We must follow our policies and procedures either under UNH’s Student, Rights, Rules and Responsibilities or the UNH Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment Policy. The university has an obligation to respond to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence including conducting a fair and equitable investigation.

Q: What if a colleague reports to me? Or a student shares something that happened before they came to UNH? Or I hear about something but I don’t know if the person is a student?

A: Our advice is when in doubt, call us to talk about it. A preliminary assessment will be done based on the information provided along with guidance on next steps.

Q: Isn’t reporting going to impact my relationship with my students? What will I say?

A: K-12 teachers have long been mandated reporters and our students are used to that. Be honest with them: “This is not my area of expertise. I need help to help you. You will have a voice.”

Q: How do I make a report?

A: Contact Title IX coordinator Donna Marie Sorrentino at 862-2930 or dms@unh.edu AND Police Chief Paul Dean at 862-1427 or paul.dean@unh.edu

Q: What if I have questions?

A: Call or email the Title IX coordinator. Learn more. Training is currently underway with many groups around campus. Every incoming student had to complete an online module on this topic. They know faculty and staff are mandatory reporters.