Photo by Cassandra Bauer
BY JESSICA LYNK
On Pomerantz Stage last Wednesday, Title IX coordinator Katie Overberg asked around 20 Drake students why they thought students at Drake did not feel comfortable reporting sexual assault.
Students threw out reasons: survivors of sexual assault did not know if an incident constituted as worth reporting or a survivor not trusting the university.
One student even brought up the fact that alcohol could be involved, deterring a survivor on the basis of fear or getting blamed for an incident.
“We want to change that here at Drake,” Overberg said. “We want them to know that it is okay to come forward, that they are going to be supported, that they are going to be believed and we are going to treat them well.”
Title IX is a federal law that says that students “are protected from sex-based discrimination, harassment, or violence, whether it occurs on or off campus,” according to Drake’s Title IX website. This requires Drake to respond to and prohibit any sexual harassment or violence.
Overberg started at Drake after a Title IX complaint was filed through the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in October 2014. Since then, Overberg has been overseeing Drake’s policies to make sure all Title IX procedures are being met.
One student is trying to change the climate at Drake by holding an educational series titled, “Know your Title IX.” The first installment of the series was held last Wednesday and covered what reporting sexual assault looked like from a Drake standpoint.
“A lot of the things that students complain about on campus can be solved through education,” said senior Grace Rogers, Student Services Senator and event planner. “I thought that starting a series where we talk about Title IX and how it relates to Drake could help people on some of the issues of sexual assault policy on campus.”
Rogers is planning to host two more events like this one, alongside Overberg, to help students fully understand the ins and outs of Title IX. Rogers is hoping students will decide what the other two events look like by submitting their own ideas.
Overberg started the event by letting students know that survivors are always encouraged to report sexual assault, whether that be to the university or the police.
However, she went on to explain that the extent of the help the university gives is completely in the hands of a survivor of sexual assault.
“You are not going to get pressure… to do one thing or another,” Overberg said. “We want to make sure you got options and from there it is going to be up to the survivor. And it’s a balance, making sure the options are known and are clear and the support is there, but that the choice is ultimately up to the survivor.”
Overberg wanted to make it clear that there are steps for students to take and that they never need to report if they do not want to.
“There is a lot the university can do and I think that is kind of a myth that if you tell the university, you must file a report,” Overberg said. “They are really different things. One is coming forward to get help.”
The reporting process at Drake is how each survivor wants to use it, according to Overberg.
“We are going to give them the resources that they are looking for and they are not going to be forced into a process that they don’t want to (do),” Overberg said. “Because we need to give the control back, not take it from them. There are a lot of reasons to come forward and only… two have anything to do with a formal process. The others are all about helping move forward, getting back on your feet, keeping safe.”
A concern that was brought up at the event was that other schools have higher confidential resources under Title IX.
At Drake, only specific resources are listed as confidential and no “responsible employee” of the university is confidential. Responsible employees under Title IX refers to anyone who is allowed to write-up misconduct to the university.
This means that residence assistants, faculty and other people with “perceived” positions of power are private resources to students, but they must report to the Title IX coordinator and their conversations can be used in a court case.
Overberg said that universities have the option to appoint someone as confidential at the university level, which means that person would not have to report to the Title IX coordinator.
But Overberg said it gets tricky under Iowa law, which still allows for lawyers to summon that conversation to court.
“That’s a really dangerous mix and confusion,” Overberg said. “… The problem is that only protects that person in that setting, that doesn’t protect them anywhere else and that feels like a big gamble to take, especially when I’ve seen from the students’ side, confusion over who is confidential because they thought they were in a confidential setting. The best practice is to have people know how to find confidential resources, so if they want confidentiality they got it.”
Overberg emphasized why she thought this is important to distinguish at Drake.
“That’s why we want to publicize (confidentiality) so much, so that if a person is looking for help, they go to confidential (sources) first because I don’t like surprising people,” Overberg said. “… If you are not sure and you’re wanting to look through some options, confidential is the best because if you don’t ever want the university to know, I’ll never find out. And that’s okay because we want the survivor to do what they want to do.”
Students can find more resources about Title IX at www.drake.edu/titleix/.
Students can also call or text Violence Intervention Partners peer-student advocacy at 515-512-2972 as a confidential resource if they need to talk to someone immediately.