Utah State University has signed an agreement with the United States Department of Justice after a review of the university’s Title IX compliance between 2013 and early 2017. The DOJ reviewed USU’s policies and practices for responding to incidents of sexual misconduct involving students.
“The review found that, during this three-year time period, there were university-wide failures in addressing sexual misconduct,” said USU President Noelle Cockett. “We’ve made sweeping changes since 2016, and this agreement further lays out a series of steps we will take to prevent sexual misconduct and respond to it appropriately when it does occur.”
The agreement between USU and the DOJ includes the following new actions:
- Update and revise the sexual misconduct policy and the procedures for investigation and disciplinary action. USU is already in the process of updating policies and procedures, and plans to finalize these in the next few months. The university will roll out an education campaign when these are released.
- All incoming students attending a residential campus (Logan, Price, and Blanding) must complete in-person training regarding sexual misconduct prevention beginning fall 2020. Currently, students who enroll in the first-year experience class, Connections, receive in-person training on bystander intervention. This commitment will expand in-person training to more students and expand the topics covered.
- All undergraduate and graduate students must complete annual online training in sexual misconduct prevention beginning fall 2020. Currently, students must complete an online course during their first semester.
- All “responsible employees,” as defined by Title IX, must receive annual in-person training in their responsibilities to report disclosures of sexual misconduct to the Title IX coordinator. Currently, all employees are trained during the on-boarding process, and then every three years either in-person or online.
- Those employees involved in the Title IX process, those receiving confidential disclosures, and officers in the USU police department will also all receive annual in-person training.
The university will submit semiannual reports to the DOJ regarding reports of sexual misconduct at USU.
“These steps are a natural progression to our current efforts,” President Cockett said of the new requirements. “Our most recent sexual misconduct student survey shows we are making progress on this issue, and these requirements will only help us more.”
USU was notified it was under a DOJ investigation in January 2017. President Cockett expressed appreciation for those who worked hard to provide information to the DOJ and cooperated with the investigation, particularly those survivors of sexual violence who shared their experiences.
USU came under scrutiny in July 2016 when the Salt Lake Tribune published a story about a former USU football player accused of raping several women while he was a student. In August 2016, USU’s general counsel launched an internal inquiry into these allegations, and the findings of that inquiry are echoed by the DOJ’s findings.
Since fall 2016, USU has taken the following actions:
- Overhauled Title IX oversight and compliance: provided an additional layer of supervision above the Title IX coordinator; increased staffing in the Office of Equity with the hiring of four new positions, including a prevention specialist, a new Title IX coordinator and a new director in fall 2018, as well as a new supportive measures specialist and additional investigator in fall 2019.
- Reorganized fraternity and sorority life and hired a coordinator to improve student safety and increase oversight and accountability.
- Trained student-athletes in sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention annually, with new students receiving in-person bystander intervention (Upstanding) training their first semester. Athletics staff also receive annual training on Title IX compliance.
- Created a Task Force and several working groups to recommend vast changes and implement them quickly, and formed a committee that meets monthly to coordinate and implement Title IX oversight, victim resources, and prevention efforts.
- Conducted the university’s first campus climate survey on sexual misconduct to gauge student attitudes and experiences with sexual misconduct. A second survey, conducted in April 2019, shows an increased number of students who know how to report sexual misconduct, are aware of confidential resources, and think USU handles incidents fairly.
- Added policy and procedures to the Student Code addressing how the university will handle anonymous reports and reports where the victim does not want to participate in an investigation and/or requests limited action by the university.
- Created a risk assessment for all reports of sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking to ensure that USU responds appropriately when there is a threat to campus.
- Partnered with the Utah Department of Health to tailor its bystander intervention program, “Upstanding-Stepping Up to Prevent Violence in Utah,” for USU campuses. Over 10,000 students have been trained in this program so far.
- Began requiring all new students (freshman, transfer and graduate students) to complete an online sexual assault prevention program in their first semester. Those who do not complete the program are not able to register for the next semester.
- Joined the global “Start by Believing” campaign to decrease victim blaming and increase support for those in the campus community who disclose sexual misconduct.
In addition to the actions above, the university has created four full-time and nine part-time positions to develop additional trainings that will start in fall semester 2020 and to gather data on reports.
More information about this investigation, as well as the DOJ’s final findings and signed agreement, are available.
Statement from Utah State Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell:
Utah State University has acknowledged several system-wide failures between 2013 and early 2017 in its processes to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct. Since 2016, the university as a whole has made enormous strides on how we address sexual misconduct and better serve our students and campus community.
All Utah State Athletics staff and coaches receive annual training about sexual misconduct and responsible employee duties, as well as frequent reminders about Title IX compliance. In addition, all of our USU student-athletes are educated annually on sexual misconduct prevention and building healthy relationships.
Utah State Athletics is dedicated to the university’s ongoing commitment to building a culture of respect across the entire USU campus community. We will continue to prioritize educational efforts in this area for our student-athletes, coaches and staff. We have learned and grown together in an effort to make Utah State University a safe campus.
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