How Stony Brook University handles Title IX

By Rebecca Anzel, Giselle Barkley and Hanaa’ Tameez

Amidst an ongoing federal investigation into Stony Brook University’s handling of Title IX cases, many students are unfamiliar with the law and the method by which SBU investigates sexual harassment/violence claims that occur on its campus.

“Title IX—it sounds familiar but I can’t say what it is,” Mark Szklonicki, a junior health science major, said.

Other students, like junior biology major Ava Cazabonnet, junior psychology major Trini Joseph and senior mechanical engineering major Yash Vardhan Sharma, did not know what Title IX was, nor had they heard about the law or the investigation process before.

Due to what seems like a general lack of information and understanding in terms of Title IX and reporting sexual assault and harassment at Stony Brook, The Statesman compiled its findings in relation to the matter.

As part of the 1972 Education Act, Title IX is a federal clause prohibiting discrimination based on gender at any federally-funded educational institution, including about “16,000 local school districts, 3,200 colleges and universities, and 5,000 for-profit schools as well as libraries and museums,” according to the United States Department of Education website.

Stony Brook is a member of the State University of New York system and receives monetary support from both the state and federal government. Therefore, the institution must follow the rules outlined by Title IX.

The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation into Stony Brook on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Because the investigation is open and still ongoing, neither the University nor the OCR can comment on its progress or findings.

Reporting

Each year, university police departments are required to release an annual Clery Report. The report details all crimes that occurred on campuses and includes sexual assault-related crimes.

The 2014 Clery Report, which Stony Brook’s UPD released at the ending of September, states that on-campus rapes were reported six time in 2013. In addition, rapes that occurred in residential facilities  were reported five times last year. These reports have gradually increased over the last three years according to the Clery Report.

However, it is unknown whether reports have increased due to more rape or sexual assault related incidences at Stony Brook or because more victims are reporting these cases.

Despite the Clery Report and Stony Brook’s efforts towards educating students about Title IX, some students said universities are often hypocritical when they fail to disclose its own mistakes.

“The authority contradicts themselves and covers up what actually happens like incidences where Title IX is violated and [it’s] just for the sake of reputation,” Veronica Bognot, a junior philosophy and comparative literature major, said.

A university’s transparency regarding Title IX violations or sexual assault-related reports not only indicate its safety but also provides insight on how these incidences are handled.

“Telling the truth about high numbers makes a school safer, in my opinion, because it means they’re less likely to hide the truth, which is always a safer policy.  Schools with low numbers are dangerous because it means they are either discouraging victims from reporting and/or handling the cases under the radar,” Murphy said. “Both approaches put women at greater risk and send the message that violence against women is acceptable because the school will not take effective steps against offenders and or openly address and shame the behavior.”

The Process

Within the last year, SBU published on its University Community Standards website an interactive chart detailing to the process by which it handles all sexual harassment and abuse allegations. The process is broad and all-encompassing; it is not specific to sexual harassment and assault.

According to the chart, those making a complaint have 30 days to do so and can choose to go to the University Police Department, Office of Community Standards or the Title IX Director. From there, a University employee from the Division of Student Affairs office conducts an investigation into “whether further action is necessary.” This includes getting accounts of the situation from the alleged victim and assailant and any witnesses.

There are two possible outcomes at this point. In some cases, a written notice will be sent to the accused student notifying him or her of the specific charges and a hearing will be scheduled no sooner than ten days after that notice is sent. It is unclear if the written notice is sent out by post or by email.

The accused can “take responsibility” and waive the right to a hearing and accept the sanctions, according to the chart. If the student chooses to contest the allegations, he or she can appeal to start a hearing process. The type of hearing varies based on the severity of the accusation.

The second route is to hold a Disciplinary Counseling meeting, which will be scheduled between the student involved and a university official. It is unclear if the student called into the counseling meeting is the accuser or the accused.

The information presented in the chart seems to hold that any incident will always be between students but does not mention any changes in the process if one of the involved parties is, for example, a staff or faculty member.

Despite this lengthy process, many Stony Brook students are not aware of the initial steps of reporting a Title IX-related incident.

“I know that there is a hearing but, I didn’t know that it went through people who were running the Title IX stuff,”  senior psychology major Adil Ahmed said.

Many students, like Ahmed, said they would go to the University Police Department to report a Title IX-related incident. Although UPD conducts an investigation into a Title IX-related case after it is reported, they pass the information to the university’s Title IX office for further investigation.

Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England School of Law who spoke at a Title IX panel at Stony Brook last April, said in an e-mail she does not know of any university that “complies fully with Title IX.”

Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding Title IX—chief among them is the idea the clause only pertains to athletic programs at federally-funded higher education institutions.

Three others, as defined by an ESPN article, are that schools to must cut a number of male teams; Title IX ensures opportunities for female and male players are equal; and the monetary resources devoted to male and female teams must be equal.

According to the article, “schools must decide where to spend their money. And often, when they decide to cut non-revenue men’s sports—such as wrestling, swimming and tennis—it’s not so they can fund women’s sports, but rather so they can pump more money into football.”

In terms of equal amounts of spending on men’s and women’s athletic teams, there is nothing in Title IX that explicitly states schools need to spend the same amount of money on their women’s and men’s sports teams. Instead, its language specifies the difference in spending cannot be as a result of any discriminatory acts. Most all higher education institutions spend more money on men’s sports programs than on women’s.

“Sports are important, but they’re not more important than safety and equality in access to academics and education,” Murphy said.  “Put another way, raped women don’t need more basketballs.”

Educational programs

Stony Brook’s Director of Title IX and Risk Management Marjolie Leonard said the campus community is also often unaware as to how sexual assault is classified and handled. She jointly oversees the SBU Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination,” Leonard said during an impromptu interview with different Stony Brook media organizations on Wednesday, Oct.1, 2014. “In the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action, we address all forms of discrimination so it makes sense that it would be run together.”

Leonard has not been available for an interview since Oct. 1.

Leonard also said she and her department use a relatively new online training “Know Your Rights” program to better educate students. “One of the things that is really important that we have been doing and continue to do with this online training is equipping our students and employees with information and knowledge because a lot of people don’t know what their rights are and responsibilities are,” Leonard said. “They might not know what options we have available to them if they should be the victim of some type of sexual harassment or sexual violence, knowing what resources are available to them.”

The deadline to complete the mandatory training was Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. A hold is placed on the SOLAR accounts of students who do not complete it.

According to Murphy, training is not what will solve these problems on college campuses.

“Schools don’t need training and ‘advisors,’,” she said via e-mail. “They need transparency, accountability and effective oversight by state and federal agencies and state and federal courts.”

“Schools don’t need “training programs” about consent, and silly experts who “teach” officials how to apply boondoggle policies,” she continued. “They need simple, short and easy to use and understand policies that make it VERY clear that sexist violence is the SAME type of harm as racist violence, and ethnic violence, etc. THIS message, alone, will change things overnight – and the training necessary to make this point clear should be a program where ALL protected class issues are addressed at the same time.”

Students who took the “Know Your Rights: Discrimination and Violence Required Training”—like Ahmed and Szklonicki—had mixed reactions about the survey.

“I thought…that it was kind of a waste to be honest,” Ahmed said. “You ran through 10 slides and at the end they gave you questions.” Ahmed said despite the fact that the slides provided students with information, he “could only imagine that most people didn’t really re-read them.” However, he mentioned the questions in the survey were “good.”

While the survey touched upon some students’ previous knowledge about sexual assault, it also provided new pieces of information.

“I can’t say I learned anything I hadn’t known before. But it cleared up a few things,” Szklonicki said. Prior to the survey, Szklonicki did not know a woman could rape a man. “It’s not something that you would think could happen.”

This article was originally published in the Dec. 8, 2014 issue of The Statesman.
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On reporting death: I am a Seawolf, too

When you get a call saying that a fellow student may have committed suicide on campus, your heart drops.

It is an awful thing to hear. Your mind runs at a million miles a minute with all sorts of thoughts, but you keep asking yourself, “why?”

For Kelly, Arielle and I as news editors, it is no different. But then we run.

I was at the scene when University Police Department and Suffolk County Police Department officers were conducting the initial investigation at Roosevelt Quad on Tuesday, Dec. 2. The three of us took this very seriously, which is why we did not bother trying to find out who on our staff was closest in proximity. We went ourselves.

I saw students around us with tears rolling down their faces. I had to swallow the knots in my throat and bite the insides of my cheeks to keep my own tears from falling.

As the campus newspaper of record, The Statesman is obligated to disperse information to the campus community that affects the campus community. When I initially found out that a student may have possibly taken his own life at Stimson College, I felt what you all felt. But as a reporter, I have a responsibility to you, the readers, to find out what happened. This is not to say that I suffer more than you do; that is not true at all. But my experience is different, and it is one that is hard for most people to understand.

Kelly, Arielle and I know full well that in a situation like this, the last thing a person wants to do is speak to a reporter. If you witness something like that, we know how terrifying and downright annoying it can be when a reporter asks you what you saw—you do not know if you know what you saw, much less how to talk about it for publication.

It is scary for us too. We know you are distraught and we never know how you are going to react to us. But we have to go for it because we are the only people who can humanize the story. When we ask you what you know about someone, we are not trying to fill space in our paper. We want them to be remembered as who they were and what they meant to you, not by how they left us.

Our angle is not that a person died on campus. It is that our community lost a Seawolf.

When publications like Newsday and The New York Daily News pick up a story like this, more likely than not, it was a slow news night for them.

At The Statesman, that is certainly not the case. We know how deeply an event like this resonates with the campus community. We know that you are counting on us for information because we are here.  We are not in Melville, N.Y. and we are not in New York City. We are at Stony Brook.

We recognize that verification is crucial to journalism, particularly in sensitive matters. We know other news organizations have published stories that included speculation on details about the manner of the student’s death—details that we know were not confirmed on the record by UPD or SCPD. We know those details were not confirmed because we asked the authorities. Several times.

This is one of the many reasons I value my working relationships with groups like UPD and SCPD. They understand better than most people how vital accuracy is and how detrimental a factual error can be. This is why Kelly, Arielle and I waited until we received official, on-the-record comments from them. We have been working with them for years and we trust them to do their job just as they, and hopefully you, trust us to do ours.

If we—Kelly, Arielle and I­—were slow to get the information about this out to you, we sincerely apologize. We never want to keep you waiting. But know in a case as sensitive as this one, we decided that accuracy trumped timeliness and it was better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.

We decided it was better to publish what you already knew from the campus-wide emails than to re-publish speculation from other organizations. We wanted to make sure every word of every sentence that we put out was 1,000 percent factually and grammatically accurate.

Our job is to sift through, clarify and package this information so you do not have to. We in no way want to do any more damage than has already been done.

If you have any questions or concerns about the story we published, feel free to email us at news@sbstatesman.com.

We are incredibly sorry for the loss of a fellow Seawolf. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in this trying time.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 8, 2014 issue of The Statesman.

Jessica Ogunnorin: champion of change

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Senior guard Jessica Ogunnorin is definitely a long way from home, but is making the most of her last season at Stony Brook.

Hailing from Athens, Greece, adjusting is what she does best. Before joining the Seawolves, Ogunnorin spent two seasons with the University of California–Riverside Highlanders. In California, she found her work was cut out for her.

“The major difference is athleticism,” she said. People here [in the United States] are stronger, faster, more explosive.”

But she also found the American players are more on her level. Eye-level, that is.

“I think something I had to deal with and understand was the difference in height,” Ogunnorin said. “I was always one of the tallest players back in Greece so I used to be the post back there. Then I come here and I see people my height playing the three position, so that was an adjustment.”

“One of the strongest parts of my game was rebounding, even back at home,” she said. “I’ve just embraced that and I love rebounding so it’s really one of my goals to rebound as much as I can whenever we play.”

After arriving at SBU, Ogunnorin had to adjust to new teammates and new coaches. Former head coach Beth O’Boyle’s departure meant more change, which she welcomed with open arms.

“I left my old school, I came here, I learned how to adjust to coaches,” Ogunnorin said. “At this point, I embrace changes, I think that changes are always for the better, so one of the things that’s really important is just buying into the new concepts, the new ways of playing, and we’ll get the best out of it.”

Ogunnorin said bringing her California experiences to New York only helped her grow as a player and a person.

“Prior to going to my last school, I hadn’t even been to the United States so it definitely helped me,” she said. “I learned a lot about the culture, the style of game, my first team was really a team full of athletes so it really prepared me for this conference and any conference I would go to. I learned a lot from that experience and I try to take everything that I learned from there and use it for the better.”

But after sitting out her sophomore season, she made a big impact at Stony Brook her junior year, which she started out unsure if she would even play.

“For me, it was really like a gift because I transferred from a D-I and we weren’t sure that I was going to play so I had to wait from the NCAA so I was really grateful for that,” Ogunnorin said. “Prior to last year, I had sat out so I was really glad I was given a chance to be part of the team that makes such history.”

Part of making Seawolves history included breaking Albany’s 38 conference game winning streak.  On March 1, 2014, Ogunnorin was the top scorer against Albany with 18 points, picking up nine rebounds along the way.

“It was a really big thing for us,” she said. “Albany is one of the best teams in the conference and we respect them and their work and everything. It was important for us to know that we’re able to do that and by being consistent and focused, we can have good results.”

But to be named to the America East All-Championship team, the work started on the West Coast.

“One of the main reasons I decided to come to the U.S. was to be challenged,” she said. It was really tough in the beginning as a freshman [because] I wasn’t as strong as I am now. I think the way I overcame that was by lifting, focusing on just getting stronger, eating better, just being in the best shape I could.”

Now as a senior, Ogunnorin said she wants to take on a larger leadership role on the team. This year, she and Sabre Proctor are the only two seniors on the roster.

“I want to be able to give back now,” she said. “All the things that I learned from transferring, different coaches…I told myself that I would give back, teach all the values and habits that I learned, and just try to be a really good role model for my teammates on the court and off the court.”

As for personal goals, Ogunnorin said she just wants to enjoy her last season as a college basketball player.

“I want to be the best athlete [I’ve become] all these years,” she said. “I told myself I want to have really good experiences and memories with my teammates and make the most out of it and give my all.”

This article was originally published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Statesman.

Sports Highlights: Men’s Soccer vs UMass Lowell

The Stony Brook Seawolves suffered a 2-1 home loss to UMass Lowell on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 in the America East Conference. This video was originally published on sbstatesman.com

 

Sports Highlights: Stony Brook Men’s Soccer vs. Lehigh

Coming off two away losses in Connecticut, the Stony Brook Seawolves defeated the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in a 3-0 shutout in their home opener on Friday, Sept. 6, 2014.

This video was originally published on sbstatesman.com on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.

Wolfie Unmasked

At Stony Brook University on Long Island, there’s a certain mystique that surrounds Wolfie the Seawolf, the university’s mascot. Three seniors at SBU spoke to The Statesman about their experience inside the Wolfie suit. Hear what Jawad Mourabet, Jared Reed, and Richard Moylan have to say about their “larger than life” experience on campus.

This video was originally published on sbstatesman.com on May 10, 2014.

Brookfest 2014: stadium flooring to cost 28K

Outraged students took to social media on Thursday, April 10 when the Undergraduate Student Government posted on Facebook and Twitter that the Athletics Department wanted a $40,000 semi-truck flooring to protect the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium turf during the Brookfest concert. USG asked students to tweet at the Athletics Twitter account to express their disapproval.

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