By Aleksandra Sidorova
For years, SUNY Plattsburgh had a physical Title IX office that deals with reports on discrimination and sexual assault. However, now these services are provided remotely and have been for the past year, to an uncertain degree of success.
Current Title IX Coordinator Ann James knows she’s not here forever. James has been providing Title IX services for SUNY Plattsburgh since fall 2021, just over a year since the search for a permanent Title IX coordinator failed.
James does not have a physical presence on campus — she lives in Cincinnati — but was hired through the firm Grand River Solutions to provide Title IX services to multiple college campuses remotely.
“Most people don’t want to make a report, they want help and support,” James said. “I can help with those things. It just doesn’t have to happen in person.”
Grand River Solutions “provides institutions across the country with the ability to delegate some or all of their Title IX needs on an interim or ongoing basis,” the firm’s website states.
Grand River Solutions also provides services for accessibility and disability as well as Clery Act compliance. James is contracted to work with SUNY Plattsburgh 20 hours a month.
That “is not a lot,” but additional hours can be contracted to be dedicated to investigations and judicial processes, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Allison Heard said. Heard also said she would like James to dedicate her time “purely” to processing reports and providing resources to students, but would expect a full-time coordinator who is on-campus 40 hours a week to run educational campaigns for Title IX and be involved in orientation.
James said she received 46 Title IX reports in the 2021-22 academic year. The annual report for the 2018-19 academic year, when SUNY Plattsburgh had a physical Title IX office, lists 112 reports. University Police, the primary physical alternative now, receives eight to 10 Title IX reports every semester, UP Chief Patrick Rascoe said.
“Students know that if you go to Title IX, you’re not bound by anything, you haven’t started a snowball you can’t undo,” Rascoe said. “Whereas I think there’s a belief that coming to a police department — ‘Oh boy, now there’s going to be a police investigation.’ But we’re bound by the same rules as Title IX.”
Those rules are the student’s right to choose whether to make a report, to have an adviser of their choosing and to receive assistance by law enforcement. Even if students choose not to press any charges, they may find the act of documenting their experience therapeutic, Rascoe said.
Both Rascoe and James note that Title IX and UP have different areas of influence and are different processes. For example, UP does not have jurisdiction off-campus, while Title IX does.
James said she works closely with UP, and it has been “wonderful” in providing support and referrals to students who walk into the station. However, James said that in her 20 years of working in physical Title IX offices at educational institutions, students rarely came into the office to make a report. Instead, the report would come from an online form, call or email. Now, most students she works with prefer remote meetings.
“A lot of people don’t want to come in and talk in person,” James said. “They want to be at home where they feel safe.”
However, some students do want in-person meetings with James, which she cannot provide. Instead, she partners with someone on-campus to host a meeting in their office. The student would meet with the faculty or staff present on-campus, and James would join the meeting via Zoom.
Although James speculates her remote services cost the college less money than a physical office would, she said the college wants a physical Title IX office.
“Campus knows having one on campus is the solution,” Rascoe said.
Rascoe also said the Title IX office should fall directly under the college president, like it did a few years ago. Currently, it is under Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which Rascoe said may complicate investigations and influence them to be partial.
Former Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise Boire did not speak to her work at SUNY Plattsburgh, including the hours she worked when the college had a physical Title IX office, but said student success and experience continue to be important to her as a SUNY Plattsburgh alumna.
Another search for a permanent coordinator is underway. On the search committee are Student Association President Taiba Azeem and Heard. Azeem has been focused on bringing a physical office back to campus since the semester started.
“I am grateful that currently we have services offered to those who need help through the online Title IX office program, but I also feel that it cannot help the students in the way an in-person, on-campus Title IX office can,” Azeem said.
Heard’s Secretary Barbara Criss said four candidates applied in the previous search for a Title IX coordinator and three came to campus for an interview. One candidate was offered a job, but they declined because their office was originally planned to be in Kehoe, which the candidate felt was “isolated” from the rest of the campus.
Launching another search for a Title IX coordinator, Heard has to reform the hiring committee. Some members are too busy, some are no longer interested in participating in the search. In contrast to the previous search, which utilized a search firm, Heard is going “grassroots,” utilizing her personal and professional networks, mainstream job posting sites and even the local newspaper Press-Republican to advertise the Title IX coordinator position.
Heard aims to announce the search in March and not in the summer, as the previous search did. She said the new year is the best time to advertise positions while people are still caught up in their resolutions.
“I think it’s going to be a great turnout,” Heard said. “One, I like to be positive, and two, I think this is a great place to work.”