Title IX Coordinator discusses change

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

Baylor’s Title IX Coordinator Kristan Tucker sat down with the Lariat to talk about changes made to Baylor’s Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Interpersonal Violence Policy and a Social Climate Survey that the university sent to students a few weeks ago.

Q: Can you walk me through the changes made to the [Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Interpersonal Violence Policy]?

A: We have renamed our policy and made it the Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Interpersonal Violence Policy, just some updated terminology. Staying up to date with all the new developments in the field and best practices, of course. Some of the changes or updates we made are really focused on best practices, we are learning from our students who have gone through the process and provided us with feedback, and so we want to strengthen it and grow it.

So I will tell you way up front, one of our goals is to every year look at this policy and analyze it and stay up to date with that best practice and feedback, that is something we have planned to do. Way before Pepper Hamilton came in or anything like that, that is something our department has wanted.

Some of the changes I would say is we really streamlined the process more – it is still very much an equitable process where both parties have the opportunity for notification and participation, but we are really hoping that this new format is going to streamline the timeliness of the process. In the old process, we had two levels of appeal that went all the way to the president of the university,. That is almost unheard of in this field because that is not recommended. All of the challenges even just with schedules for the president of a university to need to fill that role, that is something Judge Starr had wanted and we definitely removed that in this current process. So when we receive a report, it could be face-to-face or when someone calls in or emails or files a report – however we receive a report, we are going to reach out to the student or faculty or staff member who first made it to gather more information and provide resources and options and just talk to them about what their rights are, and that’s our first goal.

Because sometimes people want resources and assistance, so we focus on that first. If someone chooses to participate in our process then what this looks like is we will sit down with them and we will have a more in detail conversation where we will try to find out what took place, gather any evidence they want to share with us like text messages or pictures that kind of thing, and any witness names they might be able to provide. We want to give them that opportunity to share whatever they would like to. From there, our investigator would meet with either those witness or the student. That we would call the respondent, the person who is responding to that report. The complainant is the person who has brought forward a concern and the respondent is responding to that concern those are the terms we use and they are defined in our policy if you want the actual definition you can find those there. So both of those parties are given the opportunity to speak with the investigator.

The investigator acts neutrally to collect evidence from both of them and the witnesses and then they write a report over everything that they have gathered and then both parties get to view it. It is all about that equity where you know what has been found. So after that, they get the opportunity to provide any more information they want, and then the investigator will write a rationale to determine if the respondent is responsible for a policy violation. They have been the ones who have really been looking at the information from the beginning, who know it inside and out. This is a shift from our previous policy, because they are the ones who have been dealing with it the most so instead of having to be re reviewed by someone else.

Q: So previously an outside party would come in…

A: We call them an adjudicator. An external adjudicator would come in, and they would almost have to start from scratch and try to catch up. They haven’t seen the witnesses or had any dialogue, they only knew what was on paper. They often wanted to call people back in so that could delay things some, and it just didn’t streamline it well so under this new policy, the investigator is trained to write that rational, and both parties get to see it as well. So there is several checks that is built in to this as well, where they get to review documentation, and that investigator determines if the respondent is responsible for a policy violation at that time.

They do not determine any sanctioning, though. Under this new policy, we have a hearing panel – it is a three member panel comprised of external professionals and staff and faculty who are trained on this policy. And we are bringing in external trainers who will partner with me to help everyone really understand this. Our external professionals will have already been working under our old policy and have been doing this work for a long period of time, so they will also help with training because they have that experience as well.

But the panel kicks off in two different ways potentially, so if the respondent is found responsible for a policy violation that hearing panel will meet to determine sanctioning. The other time that it could kick off is if one of the two or both parties contest the finding, if they dispute the finding. There is two specific grounds they can dispute it on that is all laid out in the policy. I won’t go too far into those details, but if they dispute the finding for one of those reasons it can go to the panel, too. So those are the two times the panel would convene: for sanctions or if there is a dispute of the finding.

Q: Earlier this week, a social climate survey was sent out to students. Did this survey come from the Title IX Office?

A: It is a university initiative. Yes, we have been active in helping that come to campus, that is something that was in the works prior to Pepper Hamilton’s report or even them really coming and doing their investigation. This survey had already been in discussion and been planning on occurring for quite awhile, and we are super excited about it. It’s not a Title IX thing; it is definitely a university initiative, which is why the email came from Dr. [Kevin] Jackson later, but we were an integral part in making it happen.

I am so glad you are asking about the survey because it is great. We want students so much to feel comfortable in answering those questions. They are challenging questions, but they are going to help us understand where our campus really is and not just where a handful of people are. We really want to know what our campus is experiencing and how they feel and where they stand so we can move forward in a positive direction.

Q: I have taken the survey and some of the questions can be difficult to answer, so what went into creating this survey and deciding to include some of the harder questions?

A: We are on the same page; this topic is a challenging topic, and no matter how you ask a question, it can be really hard, and it can trigger different people, and we understand that. This survey was actually chosen close to a year ago, six months to a year ago, and it is a well-known, well-researched survey across the nation. Lots of institutions and universities have utilized it to assess their graduate and undergraduate students.

Each question has been thought through by a team of psychologists, so this is not something that Baylor wrote or developed. It is a national measure. There is a team of psychologists who have written it who are experts in their field and in academia because we wanted the measure to hold up in being sound and thought through questions.

There are lots of different surveys out there, and there are pros and cons to absolutely every one of them, but this one at the time looked like it would be a good fit. We did take some of the pieces out that were even more difficult. We got some student feedback and some of our student groups made some recommendations, so we did pull some of the pieces out. Also, because of the length, we wanted to make it at least a little bit shorter. It is still a lengthy survey. I’m not trying to say it’s not, but in order for us to really get this baseline of our campus it was necessary.

But just so you know, in picking the survey and the development and the marketing and all of these conversations, there were faculty members who were part of it, staff members who were part of it, there was student involvement, there was a lot of background trying to choose what would be appropriate for here and getting it pushed through because we know it needs to happen soon and we wanted it to happen as soon as possible.

Q: What will be done with the data gathered from the survey?

A: Great question, we’ve been working with institutional research. They have definitely been an integral part in all of this because they do surveys all the time. That is their forte. They have been telling us how many students approximately need to take the survey in order to have data that will be incredibly useful, so depending on the level of participation in the survey will determine how far we can take this data in assisting our campus, but regardless of how many students participate, it is still going to speak into specifically in our office and as the Baylor community to prevention methods, training and education programming.

I’ve already been having some conversations as to what that is going to look like over the next year. We have some goals and specific ways we want to start doing some of that programming. This is going to speak into the topics and ways to reach the students. Some of it is unknown depending on participation, but I want you to know what the goals are regardless we are still going to allow it to speak into the things that we do.

Q: So it is a difficult survey. It is lengthy. Why should students take the time and mental energy to take the survey?

A: We’ve been receiving feedback from students asking what they can do to make Baylor a safer campus, and this is the way for students to be able to help. Help us understand what our students are experiencing even more than we do right now. To help us to understand the social climate of what they are experiencing, we aren’t going to know that unless they feel like they can be honest.

The survey is confidential. The survey does not tie back to them. They have the opportunity to submit contact information so they can be entered to win a gift card, but it does not tie to their results or answers in any way, so the survey is completely confidential. We are asking for that honesty and transparency so we can understand and make this place better and continue to move in that positive direction. That is definitely our heart in this office and also as a community, we want our students to be part of this and shift the culture.

Q: Is there anything else you want me to know about the policy changes or the survey or what is going on in the Title IX Office?

A: I think overall something I want students to know about our office, and me, and each of our hearts is how much we care about this community and care about these students, and we are working diligently to try and make it and make Baylor even better and serve our students and faculty in the best way possible.

We want them to know our hearts and know that this office isn’t just about me, Kristan Tucker – this is a bigger picture, and this is a campus initiative. Our hearts are for the people here at Baylor.