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OU expands Title IX resources, hires employees to address sexual misconduct, discrimination

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Surratt, Simpson, Mason (copy)

Vice President of Student Affairs David Surratt, Gender and Equality Center Director and OU Advocates Coordinator Erin Simpson, and Title IX Coordinator and University Equal Opportunity Officer Bobby Mason speak with a reporter Aug. 8.

 OU plans to expand resources in the Institutional Equity Office and Gender and Equality Center, providing additional training and hiring for five positions to address sexual misconduct and discrimination.

Bobby Mason, OU Title IX coordinator and Equal Opportunity officer, said the office plans to hire two new investigators — one for both the Norman and Health Sciences Center campuses — and an intake coordinator. The Norman campus investigator will focus on the Equal Opportunity Office.

“The other position that I’m most happy about is the intake coordinator position,” Mason said. “An individual who can take that intake in our processes to make sure that anybody who comes to our office, that we take steps to make sure they're safe, make sure they're knowledgeable in all the resources that are available to them.”

The intake coordinator will deal directly with reporters of sexual misconduct, and help educate victims on resources available to them, Mason said. The intake process is the first thing a complainant experiences when making a report to Title IX, a time for them to share their story and decide if they would like an investigation conducted.

As of now, whoever performs the intake would then also become the investigator on the case, if the complainant chose to go through with an investigation. Having someone who only performs intakes will allow investigators to better focus on investigations, Mason said.

Erin Simpson, director of the GEC, said the center is hiring for two new positions — an outreach coordinator and a training and development coordinator. Both positions will expand OU Advocates, a resource available for individuals who experience sexual violence but are not ready to report to Title IX or the police.

The outreach coordinator will help make everyone on campus feel like the GEC is a place they can go and utilize its resources, Simpson said.

The training and development coordinator will be a dedicated employee to hold training seminars the GEC has previously offered, including training on gender based violence prevention and implicit bias.

“We know that, statistically, nationally, the people that seek advocacy services or the people that report issues of gender based violence or sexual assault tend to be straight white women,” Simpson said. “But statistically, that's not where the most violence is occurring, and so we want to make sure that (for) everyone on here, the GEC is a safe space for them to seek support resources and confidential advocacy support.”

The expanded investment in Title IX was influenced by a “series of recommendations” from Mason to Harroz and the OU Board of Regents, according to an OU press release.

The recommendations also included an increase in sexual violence and harassment training beyond what is already required of students and employees, raising awareness of resources available to those who experience misconduct or discrimination and anticipating new Title IX guidelines from the Department of Education, according to the release.

The university is “actively recruiting” candidates for these positions, and Mason said he hopes to have the three new positions filled by Oct. 1. Simpson said she hopes to have the GEC positions filled by the same date.

Mason said he hopes to clear up “confusion” about how the office works and the resources it offers through better education about the Title IX procedures at OU.

“I think that the issue that we have is really focusing … on better education, better awareness of what we do, how our process works, what resources are available as a part of the overall process,” Mason said. “I think by having additional resources, by focusing on additional education and awareness, those are the keys to us addressing those issues.”

David Surratt, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, said he hopes a better understanding of how Title IX operates and the investment in additional employees will build community trust in the office and help students feel more comfortable reporting sexual misconduct.

“My hope is that we continue to build trust (in) our processes and the way that students engage with them that if they are impacted by sexual violence,” Surratt said. “I think...what's important about having confidential resources is that you can go to those folks (and) ask questions without an expectation necessarily of having to report and go through the investigative process.”

Harroz announced OU’s Title IX office was under review following the June 27 Board of Regents meeting. Mason said the creation of the new positions was influenced by that review.

“These are part of that larger review to ensure that we're providing the best services that we can, and that we continue to set a high bar for doing what we do and doing it well,” Mason said. “I think a lot of what we saw this summer did resolve in these additional resources.”

Jana Allen contributed to this report

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