Sexual harassment and discrimination office promises to do better

The office that handles issues such as sexual harassment on campus has been reorganized and equipped with more resources for students, faculty and staff. California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) held a Title IX town hall on Thursday to provide community members an insight into the restructuring of the office.

President Vanya Quiñones was among the audience of about 50 people, the majority being staff and faculty, in the World Theater to hear from Title IX Director Racquel Bonilla. Otter Media had planned to broadcast the public meeting, but was denied.

The town hall comes in the wake of a CSU system-wide investigation pointing out the shortcomings of the Title IX offices throughout the state, including at CSUMB.

Title IX is a federal law that protects all students, staff and faculty from sex and gender discrimination. On university campuses, it also serves as a form of reporting sexual harassment and assault, with the presumption that a school’s Title IX office will investigate all complaints and take appropriate action based on their findings.

California State University (CSU) contracted law firm Cozen O’Connor in March 2022 to conduct a system-wide investigation following a USA Today report that found former CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro had mishandled reports of sexual harassment while serving as president of CSU Fresno. The report found that CSUMB’s Title IX office had been failing students, faculty and staff for years. According to the report, the university’s Title IX program was understaffed, undertrained, and had inadequate communication.

During a year-long investigation into all 23 CSU campuses, the 13-page report found that CSUMB did not have any completed Title IX investigations during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years. The office’s lack of productivity is partly contributed to the fact that more staff were submitting Title IX complaints than students; many students do not even know where the Title IX office is located on campus (building 201, suite 211). 

Bonilla clarified in the town hall that all pending cases and documents prior to the release of the report have been reviewed, and none currently merit an investigation. If any community members wish for their case to be looked at again, they can file a new claim or contact Bonilla directly at [email protected].

The report suggested that CSUMB should hire more personnel for the office, as it currently only consists of two people: Title IX Coordinator and Director Bonilla and the training and support specialist, Amy Gessler. Among many other things, the Cozen report suggested that CSUMB update the Title IX website to more clearly state the Title IX guidelines, as well as launching a marketing campaign that would improve campus understanding of how the office can support both students and employees. 

Bonilla spent a good amount of time explaining the exact circumstances that fall under Title IX law, and what can be referred to Human Resources (HR) or the school’s ombudsman Johnny Armijo. The ombudsman is equipped to mediate and help resolve conflict; Armijo can also help a student get a No Contact Order if they are being harassed but the issue hasn’t been elevated to a Title IX concern yet. Armijo’s office is located in room 3149 of the library.

Bonilla also made it clear that gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are protected under the law.

Students, faculty or staff that feel they have been sexually harassed or discriminated against should report when and where the allegation occurred, with as many details as possible. It’s also helpful to let the office know if there were any witnesses to the harassment. There is a reporting tool on the Title IX webpage of the CSUMB website.

While they are waiting on the next steps from the Chancellor’s Office, Bonnila said that “the Title IX office has had a lot of support from the president and other campus offices … we continue to collaborate and have that support from leadership.”

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