During first-year orientation, students learn about the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support in accordance with the Title IX laws, but the process of filing a report and its overall effectiveness could still be unclear to students.
Dr. Brooke DeSipio, the director of the Office of Gender Violence and Support, said all faculty, staff, Gryphons, orientation leaders and other student representatives of university offices are mandatory reporters of any kind of gender violence or sexual harassment.
Dr. Nicole Johnson, who works in the College of Education, studied the implementation of “mandated reporters” and found that 40 percent of students thought having mandated reporters is a good idea. The study showed most people knew who the mandated reporters are and where to find them. However, Johnson said the presence of these reporters “has not affected students’ choice to report or not.”
Because so many representatives are required to report allegations, Johnson said there are limited confidential sources for survivors to speak to about their experiences.
“A student that files a complaint about a violation of university policy first goes to the Office of Equal Opportunity at Lehigh,” DeSipio said. “Students can file reports on many platforms: in person, over the phone, or online. Once a report is sent, an email is sent to the survivor to introduce them to the system and offering them a meeting with Karen Salvemini, the equal opportunity compliance coordinator and Title IX coordinator.”
Once reported, the complainant has the choice to meet with Salvemini, DeSipio said. She said if the report is about a student, faculty or staff member with recurring behaviors of misconduct or threat, the university may step in.
If Lehigh doesn’t respond properly, the student may then file a Title IX report against the university.
Kailee Atkinson, ‘21, said she is familiar with Title IX because of an incident with her friend at a party when she was a first-year.
Atkinson said throughout the past two years, she has seen and experienced other instances in which she said she felt filing a Title IX report was not as encouraged.
“After a close friend of mine was sexually assaulted, we went to Title IX,” she said. “They explained the long process of getting charges pressed, hearings and other necessities. My friend concluded that she did not have the time to go through with it.”
Johnson said she is working on a transparency campaign to inform students of the process of filing a Title IX report. She said this campaign was launched after she found an overall theme in students’ perceptions that nothing happens after a report is filed.
Johnson said survivors often choose not to go through with the process because it is lengthy.
“I want them to know that the process takes a while, and that is not ideal, but it doesn’t mean things aren’t happening behind the scenes,” Johnson said.
She said regardless of whether survivors choose to continue with the Title IX report, there are different forms of support available, including academic accommodations and dorm changes.
Atkinson said she hopes the Title IX office is effective and holds the responsible people accountable for students to feel safer on campus. She said Lehigh needs to educate students more about sexual assault and encourage conversations on the topic.
DeSipio said her role is more supportive than Salvemini’s investigative role because she “can talk through (the victim’s) options and what the meeting with Karen will look like so they can be supported and reminded of things they want to talk about.”
DeSipio’s office is open to anyone via the Gender Violence Support Advocates, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.