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UMBC takes first steps in mandatory Title IX training for all

UMBC hosted a mandatory Title IX training on Dec. 6 for 350 responsible employees, who are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct and who were determined to be the first “core” group of trainees. Title IX is a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The training was made up of administrators, police officers, athletic coaches, general counsel and student leaders, including members of the Graduate Student Association, Student Government Association and We Believe You.

The training was planned just months after the lawsuit was filed that alleged the university had mishandled sexual assault cases. Dr. Sarah Shin, the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, organized it. “I agreed to do it because of the need,” she said. “We could not afford to wait.”

The training, which was split up into two different sessions to accommodate schedules, was presented primarily by Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, lawyers from the offices of Cozen O’Connor who work directly with colleges and universities to improve institutional responses to sexual and gender-based harassment and misconduct through policy developments. policy audits, investigations, trainings and Title IX education.

The training included presentations from UMBC Title IX Coordinator Bobbie Hoye and the Women’s Center’s Director Jess Myers. University president Freeman Hrabowski attended the afternoon training session.

Gomez and Smith had been on campus earlier this semester in September for the campus’s annual Title IX/Sexual Misconduct Seminar, which reached 125 faculty, staff, and students. Hoye believes their “wealth of experience” and prior knowledge of the campus made them a natural choice to pick for December’s training. “They were familiar with us, had the opportunity to be on campus and were familiar with our processes, policies and procedures,” she said. “In terms of content, there aren’t better trainers.”

Gomez and Smith opened this month’s training with messages of encouragement for UMBC. “I have never seen an institution pull together a training this quickly with a commitment to train all,” Smith said. They followed by asking participants to write questions and concerns about Title IX on index cards, planning to address them throughout the presentation.

This was perhaps the most unique part of Gomez and Smith’s presentation, which they have shown at hundreds of colleges and universities across the country: their request for ongoing feedback. Not fifteen minutes into their introduction, a member of the audience asked them to make one of their slides more inclusive to age. They thanked the man for his feedback, and Smith changed the slide immediately.

The biggest question asked on the index cards was how the proposed Sexual Misconduct Rules by the U.S. Department of Education would impact the training going forward. But, Gomez and Smith cautioned the room to be patient and focus on what could be done in the now, given that the new Title
IX regulations may not be final for some time, a sentiment echoed by Hoye. “Our need was now,” she said.

Gomez and Smith focused heavily on the legal aspects of Title IX, explaining legislation and policies, and then offered institutional goals, which, Smith said, will help UMBC “follow Title IX procedures.” Gomez said in an interview following the training that their work is based on the “recognition that there isn’t one set of best practices” that fit each university.

“There is no school that is immune to these issues,” Gomez said. “[However], in [my] seven years with this practice, only a handful of schools of the hundreds we have worked with have asked us to provide in-person training for every single employee.”

Hoye and Myers also presented following Gomez and Smith and covered reporting policies from the Title IX side and from the eyes of a sexual assault survivor, respectively.

This mandatory training reached a 96 percent participation rate. The next phase of mandatory Title IX training will reach the rest of the responsible employees, including Resident Assistants, in mid-late January, and the remaining 1,100 employees not designated as responsible employees will receive training in May.

The Student Advisory Group is currently working with administrators to help plan Title IX training for students. One of its co-chairs, Aliya Webermann, a clinical and community psychology Ph.D. student, was present at the Title IX training on Dec. 8 and said it offered something that was “necessary, but not sufficient.”

The training focused primarily on the legal aspects, she said, and less on supporting trauma-survivors. Myers presentation on survivors of sexual assault was 25 minutes of the three-hour training – “and that’s unacceptable,” Webermann said.

Administrators and the Student Advisory Group are still planning how student Title IX training will look. Webermann is advocating for mandatory training for freshman with a yearly mandatory online booster training. Haven, the university’s current answer to sexual assault prevention training, is not currently mandatory for students. In 2016, only 44 percent of incoming students actually completed the module.

Webermann has been outspoken against the university’s sexual assault prevention practices, even publishing an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun saying that the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases has been going on longer than the public may have been aware. However, she is committed to working with the administration – or anyone who cares about issues of sexual assault.

“At this point I think there’s been some strides – not enough in my opinion, but there’s been some – and I think we can build on that,” she said.