Sexual Misconduct, and how it’s handled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, were the targets of four women who appeared Thursday at the NU Board of Regents meeting.
UNL received 193 complaints of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment in 2016-17 and 160 in 2017-18. Those complaints, and their handling, prompted the appearance by the four women. Each was unsatisfied with the way their case was handled. The investigations are the responsibility of the Title Nine Coordinator. Three Investigators help the Coordinator handle complaints involving housing, discrimination, and affirmative action as well as sexual offenses.
“Their aim for sexual misconduct, if sexual misconduct is found, then they impose the disciplinary sanctions.”
UNL Director of Public Affairs Leslie Reed says one full time and two part time victim advocates were added recently.
“We decided to hire a full-time staff member who specifically supports victims. As a result, we have the equivalent of two full-time trained expert victim advocates on our staff now.”
The UNL website says Victim Advocates are there to help victims navigate campus and community resources.
The Federal Title IX is usually associated with insuring equality for women’s athletics. Several recent supreme court decisions and guidance from the Obama Administration, however, have made it clear that Title IX also requires schools to investigate and take steps to prevent sexual misconduct. The Obama directives are currently under review by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Giselle Nevares, who is now a UNL staff member, was one of the four women who appeared at Thursday’s meeting. She told the Regents she was assaulted by a fellow student….and had one goal in mind when she contacted the UNL victim advocate office.
“It is my ultimate hope to work with trained staff in a department with a primary objective of upholding equity for all students to construct an individualized safety plan to ensure I would never have to see the perpetrator ever abuse anyone at UNL.”
She went on to say, however, that she was disappointed by the response.
“UNL’s Title 9 office did not make me feel safe or worthy of protections, but instead made it clear that I was responsible for accommodating resolutions disproportionately harming me, despite proof the perpetrator had been convicted for his crime by the state of Nebraska.”
The effect on her, she said, made her disenchanted with UNL.
“My self confidence plummeted because I felt isolated and unsupported in my ability to articulate my feelings, concerns, and proposed solutions. My grades suffered because of the proceeding of abuse and subsequent stress of participating in legal hearings and Title 9 meetings.”
A UNL Employee and Alum, Miranda Melson, says she was raped by a fellow student in 2016. She told the regents that she wasn’t satisfied with response she received from the University either.
“After reporting that I was raped by another student to the UNL Title 9 office in 2016, I wanted to drop out of college, was suicidal, scared to be on campus, and couldn’t complete assignments on time. This reaction was a product of my assault, but it was magnified by my Title 9 investigation.”
She was particularly critical of Tammy Strickman, UNL’s Title IX Coordinator, who she says made factual errors in her report on the case.
“Despite my request, Tammy did not record my voice, but she recorded my rapist’s testimony. And, I found several errors when reviewing my interview. ” She said five weeks later she received a letter informing her that she had engaged in consensual sex, and that the man she accused of raping her did not violate the Student Code of Conduct.
UNL’s Leslie Reed said confidentiality requirements prevent any comment on specific cases, but added that, generally, investigators do record their interviews.
“The only situations where an interview would not be recorded would be at the request of the person being interviewed, or if the recorder malfunctioned.”
Mar Lee said she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student while on a study abroad trip two years ago in Berlin. She read a poem to the Regents describing the continuing effects on her.
“My windows are shut, locked tightly, because I live on the first floor, and people like me don’t have the luxury to walk around at night while always looking over shoulders at shadows, heart racing, gripping my keys like a weapon.”
Lee was also less than satisfied with the police response.
“I live my life knowing it could happen again, but when it does, I probably won’t go to the Police to hear accusatory questions like a broken record.”
Lee also urged the Regents to require that faculty members receive better training in how to handle instances in which students confide in them.
“When I told my Professor I was sexually assaulted, she told me I should be more careful about how I present myself, as not to give others the wrong idea.”
Luz Sitello, a P-H-D student in engineering, said she was a victim of sexual harassment in July of 2016.
“A UNL research Staff member sexually harassed me at a UNL laboratory. He took advantage of a period of time when most of my lab peers and our advisor were traveling. He cornered me as I was performing experiments, restricted my ability to move, and requested sexual favors from me. He was disturbingly specific, going into details about his desires of how often, where, and for how long the encounters would happen, while repeatedly ignoring my clear ‘no’s’.
She said she reported the incident a month after it happened, and the final report took another month.
“I learned that my perpetrator would receive no sanction because what he did was not sufficiently severe.”
The result, she said, has been a continuing trauma.
“Since that incident, having to share my work space with him was terrifying and unbearable.”
She added that the special circumstances of her P-H-D program made the results even more unsatisfactory.
“As a Graduate Student, I often work past midnight, and on weekends, when the University buildings are empty. I was recently afraid that a man stronger than myself who would have no problem cornering me during working hours had 24-7 access to my workspace and could intercept me in those low traffic hours.
Sitello also singled out UNL Title IX Coordinator Tami Strickman by name.
“I expressed these fears to Tammy Strickman and, in response, she asked me ‘what are you so afraid of?'”
Responding to that specific claim, UNL Public Affairs Director Leslie Reed said that might signal a misunderstanding.
“These kind of investigations are very uncomfortable, and we recognize that, but establishing the facts is important. A question like ‘what are you afraid of’ is a question that allows the University to understand what is actually happening. What is causing the fear?”
The Regents did not discuss the testimony publicly after it was presented at Thursday’s meeting, and the Board plans no formal action in response. Regents Chairman Tim Clare told KFOR News, however, that nothing is more important to us than the safety and well being of our students, faculty and staff…and that any incident of sexual misconduct is one too many. He went on to say that, while he’s not able to comment on the specific cases, he has complete confidence that Chancellor Ronnie Green and his team are working hard to make certain that students feel heard, safe, and supported. Green has already met with the group and said he “respects their willingness to come forward and appreciated hearing their concerns.”
Those who want to follow the stories of the four women, and the group they represent, can find additional information at dearUNL.com.. Those who want additional information on the UNL Title IX Coordinator or its victim advocates can find it at unl.edu.