It’s on us.
So says the White House campaign to address sexual assault on college campuses nationwide, and since President Obama drew that line in the sand in September 2014, this university has toed it dutifully.
Not that the university hadn’t strived to combat on- and off-campus sexual assault and adjudicate misconduct cases before Obama issued the federal call to action.
In response to recommendations made to University of Maryland President Wallace Loh by a sexual misconduct task force in 2013, administrators rolled out the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct in March 2014, when Catherine Carroll assumed her role as the university’s first Title IX compliance director.
“We cannot lump together complaints about drunken student behavior with sexual harassment, but that’s what we’ve been doing,” Loh told The Diamondback in 2014. “That’s why we needed someone who’s a specialist — who’s worked in this area and actually dealt with survivors, people who are the defendants — and is a lawyer.”
Tasked with offering a centralized, specialized space for students affected by sexual misconduct to have their cases resolved in a swift, judicious manner, Carroll’s office got down to business.
The results speak for themselves. From July 2014 through this past June, the university fully investigated 13 sexual misconduct cases, up from just one or two each year prior.
The university also expelled a record-breaking three students for sexual assault during the same one-year period, perhaps the surest sign that it’s turning the corner on handling misconduct incidents.
So as universities across the country face increased scrutiny of both their efforts to quash sexual assault and their investigatory standards, this university has positioned itself to tackle the issue harder while mitigating the threat of retaliatory lawsuits.
Leading that charge has been the Title IX office, which to date remains understaffed, underfunded — and sometimes overlooked.
The office employs just two sexual misconduct investigators, responsible for looking into all Title IX-related complaints.
Barring an extension, the office aims to complete each misconduct report in 30 business days, according to university procedures, while reaching a resolution takes an additional four to five weeks. Six of 38 cases filed since July 2014 were still pending as of June 30, though, and Carroll said complaints such as harassment frequently must take a backseat to rape investigations. The investigations prove grueling for all parties, and Carroll fears her team might burn out.
Of course, the investigations prove most grueling for student victims of sexual misconduct. Students who recounted their cases to The Diamondback said the adjudication process left them depressed, floundering academically, even terrified.
This university owes it to some of its most vulnerable community members to investigate their complaints with a thorough efficiency that befits the gravity of the incidents.
For the Title IX office to close more cases, it’ll need more resources, more investigators and more administrative attention. Yet in a recent cabinet meeting that saw Carroll slated to cover the 2015 sexual misconduct report, she ended up not giving her presentation.
“We had other things to discuss and we never got to it,” Loh told The Diamondback.
It’s unclear why top university officials didn’t stick around long enough to hear Carroll summarize how her office’s work led to a record number of expulsions, but it’s nonetheless concerning.
This editorial board wouldn’t deign to suggest that cabinet members don’t care about sexual assault victims; every administrative action Loh has taken with regard to the issue has demonstrated compassion and sound judgment. But while the university has made headway, the problem hasn’t been solved — heartbreakingly evident in every student who bravely discloses their history with sexual assault.
It’s on us to stop sexual assault. It’s on the whole university, and especially on the Title IX office — but it’s on administrators to give Carroll and her team the means to make it happen.