The new year has brought many updates regarding Title IX policy and sexual violence on campus. On Aug. 25, President Michael Roth announced five of these changes in a campus-wide email.
One advancement is the hiring of Ombudsperson Israela Adah Brill-Cass, who will act as an informal, independent, and confidential resource for Title IX conflicts and other workplace concerns.
“Mostly I’ll meet privately with folks that reach out to me to talk with them about challenging workplace situations and help them assess their options,” Brill-Cass said. “One person might want help bringing up an uncomfortable but important point to a colleague about their interactions while another might be struggling with how to talk with a Chair or Supervisor. I also meet with folks that find themselves in supervisory positions over others who were once colleagues and they’re struggling with those dynamics.”
Unconnected to any University departments, Brill-Cass serves as unbiased, third-party support for the community.
“This is important because if, say a faculty member was being harassed by a colleague, it could be difficult for them to report that incident to someone who worked with that colleague,” Rachele Merliss ’19, Wesleyan’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Intern, said. “And there’s the danger that the person you’re supposed to be reporting to is the very person you needed to make a complaint about. So hiring an ombudsperson is an effort to support our faculty and staff and make their reporting process less difficult.”
Along with this new hire, Roth also announced that the University has implemented several important changes to its Title IX policies. As described in the Victim’s Rights Law Center’s (VRLC) report, the University had to gather information about the strengths and weaknesses of the University’s response to reports of sexual and gender-based misconduct, particularly regarding the clarity of resources for students, faculty, and staff, the accessibility of the process to all students, faculty, and staff, including underrepresented minorities, first-generation, low-income, and LGBTQ populations, and the collaboration between the Office for Equity and Inclusion and other first responders.
“I’ll be working a lot with helping the administration implement suggestions from the VRLC report this year, so Wes can do better for survivors, and everyone on this campus,” Merliss said.
Roth also introduced the University’s new webpage that provides resources and support for survivors. The website defines sexual violence, offers advice for what to do in the immediate aftermath of an assault, outlines reporting and non-reporting options, and lists support services and resources such as CAPS, the SART intern, chaplains, and more.
“I give a great deal of credit to student activist[s] for the website changes as they really stepped up and worked with us to create a truly student-centered web resource,” Antonio Farias, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion/Title IX Officer, said. “Having a trauma-informed system in place is a process of continuous adaptation and feedback from those most impacted, and I believe each year, we’re in a better place when it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault.”
“The new website is a great resource, and it came from the suggestions and hard work of students,” Merliss said. “Info about sexual assault prevention and response at Wes used to be scattered all over, some of it in with information about health, some with Title IX. The new website brings together all of that information on resources and support, and provides a place for anonymous reporting.”
These new changes have been met with positive feedback from students. In particular, Katie Frizzell ’20 spoke about the hiring of the new ombudsperson.
“I’m particularly happy to hear that the administration has hired an ombudsperson for sexual violence issues,” Frizzell said. “I feel it significant that the administration is taking steps to make Wesleyan a safer campus.”
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