Ohio State is searching for a leader for its new office Title IX office. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

University leaders have kept Title IX at the forefront of their efforts in the last few weeks.

Ohio State announced details about the new Title IX office, and both the university and Undergraduate Student Government leaders released information regarding comments they submitted in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX on Friday.

The new office, which will take the place of the Sexual Civility and Empowerment unit that was closed in June, is currently titled the Office of Institutional Equity. The office will be a centralized reporting center that seeks to connect resources for sexual assault survivors who are seeking help on and off campus. This will be executed through four goals, according to Ryan Schmiesing, vice provost for the Office of Outreach and Engagement.

“First, it’s to ensure, for every student, faculty or staff member who comes forward, a consistent and coordinated response under university policy,” he said.

Schmiesing said that the office aims to provide coordinated intake and outreach support; to help survivors access on- and off-campus resources and to provide consistent information about policies and resolution options; and to monitor trends on campus.

The office is intended to handle all forms of discrimination and harassment, including that of race, ethnicity and disability, according to Schmiesing.

“The objective is for the office to also include the institutional prevention and response to all forms of discrimination and harassment complaints,” he said.

The search for a leader for the office is currently underway, according to Schmiesing, and USG President Shamina Merchant said in USG’s General Assembly that interviews with finalists began Wednesday.

Ohio State created the office at the same time national conversations around the way schools investigate sexual harassment and assault, according to Alexandra Schimmer, associate vice president and deputy general counsel in the Office of Legal Affairs.

“Last year, the university announced it had launched a thorough evaluation of its Title IX program as part of a comprehensive effort to design a model to support students and employees impacted by sexual misconduct and ensure prompt and equitable response to all reports of sexual misconduct,” Schmiesing said.

Undergraduate Student Government Vice President Shawn Semmler said the creation of this office eliminates steps that create difficulties for survivors, which has been a top priority for the administration.

“The hardest part of reaching out for help should be realizing that you need to get help and asking for it,” Semmler said. “Everything else at that point should be easy and done with your consent and your control.”

Ohio State also submitted a letter from University President Michael Drake in response to the proposed changes to Title IX during the comment period, Schimmer said.

“While the proposed regulations could result in changes in the regulatory landscape, our core values remain,” Drake said in his letter. “We are committed to preventing sexual- and gender-based harassment and assault in the campus community, providing fair and effective processes for addressing complaints, and serving as a national model for education, prevention and campus engagement.”

The Department of Education released new guidelines on the reporting of sexual assault and harassment on campuses in November and opened a public comment period to receive feedback.

“There were 104,000 respondents to this because there was that much concern in the broader community about aspects of this program,” Drake said. “This was an overwhelming response because of some of the aspects of this program that people like myself believe are entirely unworkable.”

Semmler and Merchant also released a statement Friday highlighting the key points of a letter they and University of Michigan’s Central Student Government president Daniel Green co-authored, as well as another letter from 76 student governments nationwide, both of which were submitted during the Title IX comment period.

The letters focused on five key points of concern: the definition of sexual harassment, cross-examinations, campus jurisdiction and the standard of evidence and mandatory reporting policies, according to USG’s statement.

“We want students and especially the survivors community on campus to know that they are valued, that we believe them, and that we’re actively working to make sure that any proposed regulations on the national level consider their experience first,” Merchant said.

While the letter with student body presidents from 32 different states expresses the general concerns about the proposed changes that are applicable to all campuses, Merchant said that the letter written with the University of Michigan is tailored to the specific experiences of their campuses.