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Paul Aiken
Stephanie Wilenchek, left, speaks to the audience while Katherine Erwin listens Monday during a panel discussion titled “Title IX: Progress and Process” that was part of CU’s diversity summit. Wilenchek is director of CU’s GLBT Resource Center, and Erwin is director of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment. Photo by Paul Aiken

T he University of Colorado has come a long way since Dec. 7, 2001, when two former students say they were gang-raped at an alcohol-fueled party for football players and recruits, said a panel of CU staff members and professors Monday at CU’s annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

Top-level administrators, including those in athletics, seem committed to preventing gender violence on campus, the panelists said, and a handful of staff positions and action plans dedicated to that cause have been put in place since CU settled a Title IX lawsuit with the students two years ago.

But there’s still work to be done, they said, especially around engaging faculty to help prevent sexual harassment and assault, hiring more female vice chancellors and deans, and changing the “hypermasculine” culture that sometimes surrounds athletics.

“My hope is that we get to the day when an out trans(gender) man can play on the football team,” said Stephanie Wilenchek, director of CU’s GLBT Resource Center and one of four people who spoke on a panel called “UCB Title IX: Progress and Process.”

Katherine Erwin, director of CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment, called the lawsuit brought by the two former students a “wake-up call” for the university.

Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore claimed CU violated Title IX, a 1972 federal law banning gender discrimination in educational programs, by creating a hostile environment that led to their rapes.

CU settled the lawsuit in 2007. In addition to awarding a total of $2.85 million to the plaintiffs, the settlement required that the university contract with a Title IX adviser to consult with campus leaders on gender discrimination and sexual assault.

That adviser, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, released a report in August that praised CU for a series of reforms that include more supervision of football recruits.

The panelists pointed out more successes. Erwin said her office has seen a reduction in the number of sexual-harassment complaints since CU started requiring all employees to undergo sexual harassment prevention training.

She also pointed to a newly formed committee that will investigate whether male and female athletes are treated equally. The committee will answer questions such as: Do male and female athletes have equitable locker rooms? Are they given the same accommodations when they travel?

The point, she said, is “to make sure we’re not just complying technically with Title IX but with the spirit of Title IX.”

There are still hurdles, the panelists said. For one, CU’s non-discrimination policy doesn’t include protections for transgender people, something advocates are hopeful will change this month when the CU Board of Regents considers the issue.

Also, faculty members need to be more involved in helping solve problems of gender equity and violence, CU sociology professor Joanne Belknap said. She asked any faculty members in the audience of approximately 125 people to raise their hands. Only three hands went up.

“I’m just wondering what we can do to get faculty more involved,” Belknap said. “They just don’t see it as their issue.”

Students need to be more informed too, said Belknap, who teaches a course called “Violence Against Women and Girls.”

“There are women on this campus who don’t understand what rape is, don’t understand that what happened to them is rape,” she said, referring to instances of date rape.

But Davian Gagne, CU’s Gender Violence Prevention and Education coordinator, said funding is a big issue. There’s currently not enough money to pay for all the initiatives suggested in last year’s Gender Violence Prevention Plan written by CU’s Sexual Assault-Sexual Harassment Task Force, she said.

Among the unfunded initiatives: 20 additional peer educators at a cost of $45,000 a year.

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