Examining Title IX at YSU

By Elizabeth Lehman

Youngstown State University has taken steps to be in compliance with Title IX, but some faculty and students have had mixed reactions to these efforts.

Title IX prevents discriminating on the basis of sex at colleges and universities receiving federal funding. Title IX requires schools to be proactive in working to prevent sexual violence on campus. They also have to designate at least one employee to serve as a Title IX coordinator.

Cynthia Kravitz, Title IX coordinator at YSU, said the university is working to spreading awareness and taking steps to prevent sexual assault, even though there has been criticism.

“I believe there is a lack of communication or a historic misunderstanding of what YSU is doing regarding informing and training our students on sexual violence, sexual assault and alcohol awareness,” she said.

For the last two years, Kravitz said IGNITE, a two-day orientation program, has featured a presentation by the group No Zebras intended to educate students about sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

A module titled “Think About It” will be included in the new First-Year Experience course that discusses sex, healthy relationships, partying responsibly and sexual violence.

Is it Enough?

Amanda Fehlbaum, assistant professor in the sociology, anthropology and gerontology department, said prevention and awareness efforts need to be ongoing.

“Rather than just a one-dose inoculation for incoming freshmen, they could do ongoing campaigns such as posters or flyers or workshops just talking about it,” Fehlbaum said.

Fehlbaum researched the effect of the No Zebras program. She administered a survey to the student body to see if the replies of those who saw the presentation differed greatly from those who hadn’t. She found that they did not.

“I would not say that it makes a drastic difference,” Fehlbaum said. “However, it does allow YSU to say we are providing that information.”

Diana Palardy, a professor in the department of foreign language, said just getting the No Zebras presentation was a struggle.

“They were extremely close to cutting the training, because they thought it would be a downer,” Palardy said. “It turned out to be one of the highest rated events of the entire student orientation.”

Kate Fitzgerald, director of YSU Housing and Residence Life, said her staff is working with Kravitz to add programs to Alcohol Awareness Week in September and Safer Sex Week in October. They have also offered events like Take Back the Night, a march against sexual violence.

Cryshanna Jackson-Leftwich, director of women and gender studies, said that the Take Back the Night however had low attendance and a lack of high level administrators participating in the march.

Palardy and Fehlbaum both mentioned the absence of a university officer assigned exclusively to Title IX issues.

YSU meets federal requirements with Kravitz serving as coordinator, but she also directs equal opportunity and policy development.

The Risks of Reporting

Under the Clery Act, the university is required to share information about crime on campus.

According to William Rogner, the Clery compliance officer, there were two reported sexual assaults on campus in 2015. In 2014, there were none.

But Becky Perkins, communications director at the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said victims are reluctant to report sexual assaults, especially if they were intoxicated at the time.

“Often they are unable to recall the details clearly, or they feel ashamed or responsible,” Perkins said.

Fehlbaum said there are negative aspects to reporting rapes, like having your sex life become a topic in the case.

“It’s like, do I want to go through this process, knowing that everything about my sex life is going to be on the stage?” Fehlbaum said.

Jackson-Leftwich said YSU must do more to promote the services and programs that are offered.

“I would like to know if students are aware of the resources available to them,” she said.

Jackson-Leftwich voices her concern on what will happen when complaints are filed.

“Will something actually happen, or will the victim be revictimized and the perpetrator continue to be on the loose?” she asked.

There needs to be more information about the protocol available to the faculty as well, she said.

“Honestly if a student came to me about a sexual assault, the only person I know to refer them to would be Cindy Kravitz and the campus police,” she said.

Lindsay Heldreth, president of the YSU chapter of the National Organization for Women, said YSU is making some admirable efforts, but they don’t reach a large enough portion of the student population.

“We have to make sure that this information is not only given to students in their first year, but reinforced throughout their time at the university,” Heldreth said.

Heldreth shared Jackson-Leftwich’s concerns that students may not know how to report incidents or where to find support.

Building an Understanding

Kravitz said planning for the 2016-17 Title IX events is underway. The events last year included the annual Tunnel of Oppression, an event on domestic violence, and programs geared towards consent during Alcohol Awareness Week and Safer Sex Week.

YSU President Jim Tressel said preventing sexual assault is an administrative priority. This discussion needs to take place across the university as a whole, he said, and throughout the duration of a student’s time at YSU.

“We are focused on the initiative of rape prevention, student safety, education and providing of resources for sure,” Tressel said.

Kravitz said she is always available to speak with students who have issues or concerns.

“Can we do more?” Kravitz asked. “We can always do more. However, YSU is not neglecting these issues.”