By MARTY LEVINE
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has published its first annual report, showing progress in educational efforts and support for campus events, as well as current statistics showing increasing use of Pitt’s Title IX office.
“There is a great volume of work and energy that comes out of the team,” said Pamela Connelly, vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, of her 12 employees — quadrupled from three at ODI’s start in 2015.
“It is a nice opportunity to stop and assess … particularly some of the educational aspects (of the office’s work),” she said. “I think those have the most lasting impacts.”
The office is now looking to hire its first associate vice chancellor for inclusion to focus on ODI’s climate and culture issues and to bolster its educational efforts.
The new report, assessing the 2018-2019 fiscal year, notes that:
ODI drew 2,750 people to its educational programs on diversity and inclusion, including its annual diversity retreat.
The office awarded 10 mini-grants totaling $15,753 to bring in speakers; conduct research; sponsor cultural events, student gatherings and staff educational programs; underwrite Pitt community group activities; and create new learning modules in Pitt schools.
Pitt has been named an LGBTQ-friendly university by Campus Pride, earning a score of 4.5 out of 5 for “policy inclusion, institutional support and commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts.”
ODI has seen an increase in those attending workshops to earn its Diversity and Inclusion Certificate, up to 764 from 680 last year, with 74 certificates being issued in 2018-2019.
The Office of Institutional Equity within ODI has more than quadrupled the number of community members who participated in customized education in 2018-2019, from 559 to 2,759.
A new workshop on religious diversity was added to the certificate program. Connelly said it was in the works prior to the mass shooting at Tree of Life last October, which killed 11. However, she said, “In the last few years we’ve seen an uptick in concerns about religious discrimination and religious freedom” among those contacting ODI, including questions of what students can be required to view in a classroom.
Nationally, she noted, “there’s been a systematic attempt to use religious freedom as a mechanism to discriminate,” particularly against the LGBT community. “As a nation, we’ve been through this before,” she said, when religious arguments were mustered to try to retain segregation in the U.S.
ODI’s digital accessibility effort includes developing a proposed policy governing digital accessibility for all Pitt websites and the software and hardware used here, as required by federal law. The report notes that Pitt’s office, created 18 months ago and run by Angie Bedford-Jack, has drawn more than 200 faculty and staff to education sessions and created an online hub for accessibility resources, among its accomplishments.
Pitt’s most-used websites are scoring nearly 70 percent on a national 100-point scale devised by Siteimprove — which offers software that measures accessibility — and its overall website accessibility score is 63.
“We wanted to put baseline numbers out there so we can track our progress going forward,” said Connelly. “What we really want to see is significant, meaningful progress …”
Added Bedford-Jack: “At the end of the 2019 fiscal year, Pitt’s scores were slightly below the average across other higher ed customers of Siteimprove. What they call the ‘industry benchmark’ is currently hovering around 70. I think given where we are in the digital accessibility process here at Pitt that those scores aren’t surprising. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t where we want to be.”
Implementing the upcoming digital accessibility policy is going to help, she said. “The top score is 100 — though it’s really not reasonable to think you’ll ever reach 100. There are just too many compounding variables. Getting up into the mid to high 80s would be great.”
Title IX performance across three years
The report provides several details about the other half of ODI’s mission — handling complaints through its Title IX office, which has a federal mandate to deal with complaints of “sexual or gender-based misconduct, including discrimination, harassment, and assault,” the report notes.
The report tracks complaints by all types of complainants — students, staff and faculty — against all types of what ODI terms “respondents” (alleged violators), and shows that complaints were up 20 percent in 2018-2019 over the previous year. Connelly credits this to an increase in victim awareness of the availability of the reporting process.
“Sexual misconduct research has shown that it is vastly underreported” for all genders, she said. “So in some ways an increase in reporting is a good thing.”
In 2018-19, Pitt’s Title IX office received 247 complaints, resulting in 37 investigations; the complaints took an average of 70 days to close. The report notes that the 247 complaints include “any contact with Title IX to inform us of an allegation of sexual misconduct, or requesting support and information,” adding: “Often, reports do not convert into investigations because the person affected by the misconduct is seeking interim measures or support services and does not wish to proceed to a formal process.”
By comparison, Title IX at Pitt in 2017-18 received 212 complaints that took an average of 80 days to close, and which resulted in 34 investigations; and in 2016-17 received 183 complaints that took an average of 57 days to close, and that resulted in 18 investigations.
Among respondents — the person alleged to have committed the misconduct — in the last academic year, 47 percent were students, 25 percent were staff and 18 percent were faculty, with the status of the remaining 8 percent either unaffiliated with Pitt or unnamed by the complainant.
Sixty-one percent of last year’s complaints alleged sexual harassment, while 25 percent alleged sexual assault (including rape), 10 percent concerned relationship violence and four percent concerned stalking.
“I think it’s consistent with what we see across the nation,” Connelly said of the numbers. “The vast majority of people … want access to resources, such as counseling, and they want interim measures. Many people choose not to go forward with the full process,” and mostly that is the complainant’s choice, apart from instances in which ODI sees a pattern in a particular respondent’s reported behavior, and when a weapon is involved.
Although the Trump administration eliminated the Obama administration’s guidelines calling for 60-day case completion, Connelly sais the Title IX office still aims for case completion in 60-90 days.
Katie Pope, head of the Title IX office, said it does not publish statistics on the gender distribution among complainants or respondents; on the number of investigated cases that result in discipline for respondents; or on the number of cases that are ruled in favor of the respondent and are then appealed by the complainant, and vice versa.
Asked about complainant and respondent satisfaction with the Title IX process, Pope said: “We have previously surveyed individuals who have used our office for interim measures or other resources, and overall, users were generally satisfied with their experience. Among other things, we used the feedback to improve the clarity of our online reporting form. However, no one that went through an investigation was surveyed. The investigative process into a report of sexual misconduct, by its nature, can feel intrusive, uncomfortable, and is often very challenging for both parties, regardless of outcome. What we continue to work on is refining the process to be clear and available to all members of the campus community, and that resources are available to assist those who go through the investigative process.
“There is an appeal process which has been a useful mechanism to receive feedback from the URB (University Review Board, which hears case appeals) and to analyze whether any process improvements should be considered.”
Pitt participated in the Association of American Universities’ sexual misconduct climate survey concerning student victims of Title IX violations in February 2019 and Connelly expects the results this month. “What we do know is that the problems are far from solved,” she said. “It’s a pervasive problem across our culture in general, and we’re not immune from that a bit.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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