Marshall University announced the search for a new Title IX coordinator Thursday, one day after a USA TODAY investigation into the school’s handling of Title IX cases sparked outcry among students and a protest on campus Friday morning.
University President Brad D. Smith issued a campus-wide statement Thursday addressing the USA TODAY investigation and detailing steps the school has taken to strengthen its Title IX procedures.
“Over the past several months, we have been working on restructuring the Title IX Office. This restructure includes moving the Title IX accountability to the Office of General Counsel. In addition, a new Title IX Coordinator will be named,” Marshall University President Brad Smith wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff Thursday.
Title IX is the federal law banning sex discrimination in education and requiring schools to investigate claims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and other types of gender-based discrimination.
“Let me assure you that Marshall University has no higher calling than to keep its students, faculty and staff safe,” Smith wrote. “We have never wavered from this priority.”
Read the full investigation:A Marshall University student is in prison for rape. His victims reveal how the school failed them.
USA TODAY’s investigation highlighted Marshall’s handling of rape allegations against one of its students, Joseph Chase Hardin, by multiple women. The first woman, Alicia Gonzales, filed a Title IX report against Hardin in February 2016. The university investigated but ultimately allowed Hardin to remain on campus.
By the time the school finally expelled Hardin three years later, he had been accused by two more students of rape, arrested twice, and was on probation for battery. He’s now serving a prison sentence for the rape of Marshall student Ripley Haney, with an expected release date of 2045.
Marshall’s Title IX coordinator at the time was Debra Hart, who was still serving in the same role at the time of the news organization’s reporting. It’s unclear whether she remains in that position now or whether her departure is voluntary.
USA TODAY twice reached out to the school’s spokesperson Friday but did not immediately receive a response.
Gonzales told USA TODAY that Smith’s statement was welcome but insufficient.
“It’s long overdue for them to actually take action,” she said, “but I’m still waiting for an apology or an ounce of accountability.”
Haney, who had been adamant that Hart should no longer serve in her position, said she felt a “sense of relief and closure that I didn’t know I needed.”
“Knowing that the university is taking steps to better the Title IX process makes it all seem worth it to me,” Haney said. “I’m just glad I could be a voice for the voiceless.”
USA TODAY’s investigation found that Marshall holds few students accountable in Title IX cases, and victims remain critical of the way those cases are handled.
Data provided by Marshall from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2020 shows the school receives few Title IX reports. It investigates most of them but finds few students responsible. Only 18% of formal investigations resulted in findings of responsibility – one of the lowest rates of schools examined by USA TODAY. This suggests a high burden for complainants to prove they were assaulted, stalked and harassed, and may also indicate that a large number of complainants are dropping out of the process.
Of the 10 students found responsible during that time frame, eight avoided expulsion or suspension, instead being ordered to attend Title IX training and counseling.
Investigation:Despite men’s rights claims, colleges expel few sexual misconduct offenders
Marshall students protest
Rebecca Law, a junior at Marshall, helped organized a protest after reading the USA TODAY investigation. It was held at 11 a.m. Friday on campus and drew everal students.
The investigation hit home, she said, because she, too, has experienced sexual harassment while at Marshall.
She said a fellow student began stalking her during her first semester. He learned her schedule so he could wait outside her classes, and repeatedly asked her out on dates without taking “no” for an answer, and called her relentlessly, she said. Sometimes when she was at the library or out on the plaza, she said, he would simply watch her.
Law reached out to student affairs for help and said she was told they had notified the Title IX office and that someone there would contact her but nobody has. That was in August. Law said she hasn’t followed up with the Title IX office, because she has no faith anyone there will help her.
After Smith sent his email Thursday, Law said she was disappointed. It wasn’t an apology or an admission of wrongdoing, she said, and it did not offer enough concrete changes to demonstrate the university takes students’ complaints about the Title IX process seriously.
Law said protest organizers are demanding:
- An apology from the university and a public admission of mishandling the cases referenced in the USA TODAY article, as well as a commitment to transparency and a culture of safety for sexual violence victims.
- A licensed counselor at the Title IX office and in all Title IX meetings, or at a minimum a direct referral for the victims to the counseling center with prioritized scheduling.
- A Title IX office that reports directly to the office of the president.
- A policy that when a report is filed, immediate action is taken to protect the complainant, especially regarding no-contact orders.
“We want them to know that we know what’s going on, and we’re not going to be quiet about this until something happens, because all of us feel unsafe on campus,” Law said. “A lot of this comes from a place of love for the university. … That’s where I’m at. I love Marshall and I think it can do better. I demand it do better.”
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