Letter about the Title IX Task Force Report
July 1, 2021
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
In recent months, we have sought your feedback and have heard your concern about our university’s Title IX process that impacts members of our community affected by interpersonal violence, sexual assault and harassment. We care deeply about the health, safety and wellbeing of our university community, and following your initial input, we have made significant progress in examining and improving our processes around Title IX related issues.
In March, the university began a comprehensive review of our policies, programs and procedures that included several immediate actions and two significant internal reviews from our Title IX Task Force as well as the university’s Audit and Advisory Services. Both groups have been supported by the advice from the external consultants contracted by the university, the Cozen O’Connor Institutional Response Group.
This week, I received the final Title IX Task Force report. The Task Force, led by Dr. Audrey Korsgaard and Dr. Kirsten Kennedy, assembled a diverse group of faculty, staff and students to provide a review of current systems and support that is as authentic and as candid as possible. Throughout their work, the Task Force was guided by their commitment to respect, empowerment, and shared accountability, and our strategic plan, which prioritizes the "cultivation of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus culture where every individual, regardless of background, has the opportunity to flourish and thrive." The report indicates several areas where we can make meaningful improvement across the broad spectrum of activities associated with interpersonal violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment. I encourage you to take the time to review the final report and its findings.
The Office of Audit and Advisory Services completed a two-month review of select prior cases at the university and that review was presented to the Board of Trustees. Their review of University Policy EOP 1.06, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence (Interim), determined that the University's policy complies with the Department of Education's regulation, 34 CFR Part 106 - Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. Additionally, procedures required by University Policy EOP 1.01, Equal Opportunity Complaint Processing Procedures were followed during the investigations of the cases included in the review. The audit noted, however, as did the Task Force Report, that more must be done to enhance the processes associated with managing reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and interpersonal violence.
This brings us to a very important moment in our responsibility and commitment to improve. We turn now from a focus on internal review and introspection to a period of purposeful and deliberate action. From my review of both reports, I have directed the following initial actions:
- Expand and improve a system of required training that ensures all faculty, staff and students receive training that enhances our community’s awareness of and how to respond to harassment and violence. This expanded training will begin in the fall of 2021 and continue as a regular requirement for every member of the university community.
- Expedite the recruitment and selection of a permanent and highly skilled Director of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), which is entering the interview phase.
- Immediately begin the hiring process for a permanent Title IX Coordinator. In recent months, the university created a separate position for the Title IX Coordinator and we are committed to hiring a permanent and highly skilled individual for this role.
- Expedite the improvement and implementation of the policies that guide our work in this area, with particular emphasis on EOP 1.06 (Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and Interpersonal Violence).
- Continue to collect feedback from the university community through our website. Your input matters, so please share your recommendations about how we can better inform and educate our community about creating a safe campus environment.
- Provide access to current data and increase campus communications about incidents of sexual assault, harassment and interpersonal violence. It is important that as a member of our community you have access to the resources and information you need to care for yourself and your fellow Gamecocks.
These are important steps in our collective efforts, and I have assembled a group charged to create an action plan based on the results of these reviews. This Title IX Implementation Group will work quickly this summer on priorities followed by a discrete list of near, mid and long-term actions by the university to holistically improve our prevention, education, response, and adjudication efforts for issues related to Title IX and interpersonal violence. This group will have a strong connection to previous initiatives and will be supported by our expert external consultants.
I am extremely appreciative of the efforts of the Task Force and all members involved in these reviews and examinations. They have provided a level of insight that will benefit our community for years to come. I would also like to reaffirm my appreciation and support to the many professionals we have in the offices engaged in Title IX related work and Equal Opportunity Programs for their unyielding dedication to our people and the rule of law.
The safety, health and welfare of our university community is our most important priority, and I remain committed to examining and improving our response to sexual assault, harassment and interpersonal violence at the university. If you or anyone you know has experienced harassment, sexual assault or interpersonal violence, please reach out to speak with a trained interpersonal violence advocate. If you or someone you know needs to report an incident, please contact the interim Title IX Coordinator, Dr. Marc Shook, or the Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) Office to file a report.
I pledge that we will continue to update our university community as this important work continues.