Deep Dive in 5: The Title IX and Gender Equity Office
Earlier this week, two reports were released regarding SJSU’s Title IX office — one from the California State Auditor and another by law firm Cozen O’Connor at the request of the California State University Chancellor’s Office. In this Deep Dive in 5, SJSU’s Interim Title IX and Gender Equity Officer Peter Lim discusses the reports and shares insights about how SJSU has made great strides in raising awareness about Title IX services on campus.
How have you seen the Title IX and Gender Equity Office change since you started working with SJSU in 2021? (Editor’s note: Lim first started working as a consultant in 2021 before transitioning into his current interim role in 2022)
Peter Lim (PL): Since 2021, the university has invested substantial resources into the Title IX and Gender Equity Office (Title IX Office). As a result, I have seen tremendous improvements to our Title IX program during that timeframe. While I am pleased with this progress, our work is far from done. Ensuring the safety of our campus community is one of the university’s highest priorities, and addressing sex- and gender-based discrimination and harassment is central to that aim. To that end, we are always evaluating how we can better care for students, staff, and faculty impacted by these behaviors.
Some of the improvements include significant increases in staffing in the Title IX Office; a new and improved office location; faster responses to new reports; the development of pamphlets, informational items, and flowcharts that explain and demystify our services; improvements to the quality and timeliness of investigations; enhanced educational programming; an increase in the number of Title IX trainings delivered; a much improved website; the standardization of internal protocols and practices; more subject-matter training for all Title IX staff members; and a focused marketing campaign to raise awareness about our office and its services.
This week, two reports were released regarding SJSU’s Title IX office — one from the California State Auditor and another by law firm Cozen O’Connor at the request of the California State University Chancellor’s Office. What are the main takeaways from these reports for the SJSU community?
PL: I value any opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs and protocols to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based harassment, and to foster gender equity. For context, while the reviews by the California State Auditor (CSA) and Cozen O’Connor (Cozen) had similarities, they were quite different.
On the one hand, both the CSA and Cozen reviewed San José State’s Title IX program. Additionally, they both delivered a large majority of their recommendations to the CSU’s systemwide Title IX Compliance Office. In their reports, both the CSA and Cozen recommend that the CSU’s central Title IX Compliance Office provide more oversight to each campus to ensure the consistent implementation of best practices at the campus level.
On the other hand, the CSA’s audit was more narrow in scope. The CSA focused its review on three campuses — San José State, Fresno State, and Sonoma State — and only reviewed how each Title IX Office handles reports of sexual harassment involving employees. Cozen’s assessment was more expansive; it extended to all 23 CSU campuses, included a review of how each campus responds to reports involving both students and employees, and evaluated each campus’s Title IX and Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation (DHR) programs. For background, at San José State, the Title IX and DHR are separate offices. The Title IX Office oversees the university’s response to reports of harassment and discrimination based on sex and gender. DHR oversees the university’s response to reports of harassment and discrimination based on all other protected statuses.
While I am encouraged by the fact that both the CSA and Cozen were complimentary of San José State’s current Title IX program, we still need to do better. For instance, one of Cozen’s primary recommendations for San José State is that our campus consolidate the Title IX and DHR programs into one office, so we can better ensure that our campus invests the same level of resources into our DHR program. Combining the two offices will also ensure that the university’s response to all forms of protected status discrimination and harassment are consistent. The goal is to provide the same level of wraparound care to anyone who experiences protected status discrimination and harassment. I look forward to working with our campus community to implement this recommendation.
(Editor’s note: After providing Lim with five questions, we added an additional question regarding the perception there are many complaints that are filed to the Title IX Office but the number of investigations is much lower.)
Can you address this perception that there are many complaints filed to the Title IX Office at SJSU but the number of investigations is lower than that number?
PL: We commence an investigation into nearly every complaint received. To clarify, a “complaint” is an official request, filed by a complainant (the person who experienced the prohibited conduct), to commence an investigation. When a complainant makes such a request, we carefully evaluate the information they provide and make a decision on whether to commence an investigation. If the complaint, on its face, states facts that would constitute a potential violation of the CSU Nondiscrimination Policy, we promptly initiate a Title IX investigation.
There may be some confusion here, which involves the distinction between a “report” and a “complaint.” For context, a report is different than a complaint. A report is any information shared with the Title IX Office that involves a suspected violation of the CSU Nondiscrimination Policy. A report can be made directly by a complainant, or by a third-party such as a witness, Responsible Employee, or anyone else who wants to share information with the Title IX Office. When we receive a report, we promptly send a letter to the complainant with information about supportive resources, investigation options, as well as an offer to meet. If the person then requests an investigation (i.e., submits a complaint), we commence an investigation in every instance where there is a possible violation of the CSU Nondiscrimination Policy.
Now, going back to the question raised, there is a large difference between the number of “reports” made to the Title IX Office and the number of investigations commenced. However, the number of complaints received and the number of investigations initiated are nearly identical.
Through the conversations you and the Title IX team have had with the students, faculty and staff, what have been the biggest takeaways that have changed how you are delivering resources to the campus community?
PL: Our students and employees care deeply about gender equity, and have a very high IQ around Title IX and other nondiscrimination laws. Over the past year, I have solicited and received feedback from the community through individual and group meetings with students and staff. As I said in one of my prior campus updates, I have consistently heard that the Title IX Office must do better. We, as an office, must build a more robust system of care for individuals impacted by and accused of sex- and gender-based harassment and misconduct.
We achieve this goal by increasing transparency in our work and holding ourselves accountable to the campus community. During the past year, I have sent a number of campus updates on our goals and the progress we have made toward reaching them. I have shared data with the campus on how many reports we receive each year, how many of those reports we investigate, and how long it takes for our office to complete an investigation. I share that data so our campus knows exactly what we do, how we do it, and where we need to improve.
I am extremely grateful for the campus’s high-level of engagement on our Title IX program, and my door is always open should anyone ever want to provide feedback.
What are some of the continued changes or improvements that will be coming to the Title IX office as the new academic year begins?
PL: In the coming academic year (2023-24), the university will be focusing on combining the Title IX and Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation (DHR) programs into one office. Because these programs have been run by separate offices for many years, the consolidation process will take time. There will be a lot of internal work that needs to be done to ensure a seamless transition and the implementation of effective practices for this new office. Additionally, we will need to raise awareness of the new office through a refocused marketing campaign, new websites, redesigned informational items, and new training content. In the end, the combined Title IX and DHR office will make it easier to find the “right” office to report protected status discrimination and harassment and receive support from the university.
We will also be focusing on identifying and hiring a qualified candidate to permanently serve as the director of this newly combined office. The hiring process has and will continue to include opportunities for the campus to provide input and feedback. The retention of a permanent director is an important next step in our work toward building an elite Title IX and DHR program at San José State.
What is the best way for the campus community to access resources from the Title IX and Gender Equity Office?
PL: One of our goals this past year was to remove barriers to contacting our office. To help achieve this goal, we developed more ways to reach us. I want people to be able to access our services however they want. Please connect with us in any of the following ways:
- Visit us in our office located in Clark Hall, Room 126;
- Email us at email@example.com;
- Text or call our 24/7 line at 669-877-0620;
- Call our landline during normal business hours at 408-924-7290; or
- Submit a report on our website at www.sjsu.edu/titleix.
I also recognize that an individual may not be ready to make outreach to the Title IX Office. Perhaps they prefer to start by talking about their experience(s) and learning about campus resources in an entirely confidential setting. That is fine, too. Comfort is key, so we have a dedicated confidential resource known as the Campus Survivor Advocate, who has specialized training on the impact of trauma. This is a dedicated position for any student or employee impacted by interpersonal violence.