Illustration by Darin Connolly.

In response to audit recommendations from the State of California, the UC is proposing a series of updates to its Title IX policy. Seeking to create an accessible, supportive policy, the UC Santa Cruz Title IX Office is gathering campus feedback on the proposed  revisions.

On Nov. 30, the UCSC Title IX Office held a campus meeting to hear comments and concerns about revisions to the systemwide UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment put forth by the UC Office of the President (UCOP). UCSC’s Title IX Office released a statement outlining proposed changes on Sept. 25. The suggested revisions to UC’s policy are unrelated to changes to the federal Title IX policy proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

UCSC Title IX Director Isabel Dees  scheduled several other conversations with graduate and undergraduate students, staff and faculty to gather feedback and relay it to the statewide Title IX Office for review. Only one person attended Friday’s meeting.

“Being here today is […] about making sure that we’re making ourselves available to be in a position to facilitate learning and listening,” said Dees at the campus meeting, “and to be able to elevate public comments to the systemwide office.”

UC policy changes will allow Title IX officers to initiate investigations without the presence of an identifiable respondent or specific complainant. This change has been at the forefront of graduate student activism in recent years. Possible updates will also expand the definitions of sexual assault, relationship violence and retaliation, and will extend the time frame for investigation. Additionally, the revisions would provide a more detailed description of alternate dispute resolution procedures for students who decide not to report through Title IX.

Dees said the majority of student feedback she hears is criticism of the complexity of Title IX processes. Because there are strict legal requirements dictating what language must be included in communications between complainants and respondents, students can feel isolated from the people supporting them through the reporting process. Changing technical terminology between students and the Title IX representatives helps students feel more comfortable interacting with the  office.

“It isn’t very trauma-informed to expect that folks who experienced violence or who are accused of having engaged in violence be able to navigate a policy this dense,” said Dees. “We try to listen to the student stories for ways that we can do less  harm.”

Being trauma-informed includes understanding how trauma impacts memory, coping skills and responses to stress. To reduce the potential for re-traumatization in policies and practices, it is important to be considerate of how the process of reporting can trigger or harm survivors. An intregal part of creating trauma-informed spaces throughout campus is community outreach and peer  education.

In addition to organizing outreach opportunities like campus meetings, Title IX responded to criticism of its policy by creating more accessible materials they call “just-in-time information sheets,” which use plain language to present required policy communication. They also work closely with Campus Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) to ensure Title IX communication is as trauma-informed as  possible.

“I believe to be truly ‘trauma informed’ we have to embed understanding of trauma into every aspect of the work,” said CARE director Kelsey Hoie Ferrell in an email. “The first step would be requiring more comprehensive trauma training for everyone involved in the investigation and adjudication processes. We need to look at ways that the process can be re-traumatizing and make adjustments so that survivors are respected, informed and supported through each step.”

CARE works with survivors of sexual violence to understand their rights and options to make the best choice for themselves. Sometimes the decision includes engaging in a Title IX process or filing a police report, but CARE also works with students who decide not to report an  incident.

CARE peer educators Toni Leto, Lourdes Dizon and Gianna Passali organize workshops that foster violence prevention and educate the campus community about how to create healthier, trauma-free spaces. For them, community engagement is imperative to ensuring UCSC is a safe space for survivors and  allies.

“UCSC could implement more in-depth trauma informed training to the campus community,” the peer educators wrote in a collectively drafted email. “Many of the reports filed on campus are made by mandated reporters and having a more comprehensive training on best practices will help them to respond to disclosures and support survivors to the fullest.”