The Title IX office is trying to expand as it handles the resignation of one of its top leaders this month.
Carrie Ross, the former assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response, left GW earlier this month after less than two years in the position. University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email that the Title IX office is adding two new positions – a Title IX investigator and a paralegal – as well as searching for someone to replace Ross.
Officials hope to fill the positions “as soon as possible,” but do not yet have a specific timetable, Csellar said. The investigator position and the assistant director position have been posted on GW’s jobs website and the paralegal position will be posted within the next few weeks, she said.
Losing a campus leader
Csellar said Ross left GW Jan. 6 to pursue a “new career opportunity,” Csellar said.
“This position has already been posted and the search for her replacement has begun,” she said. “We will seek to fill this position as soon as possible.”
Ross was hired in March 2015 to work with the Division of Student Affairs, the coordinator of victims’ services and student organizations to create sexual assault prevention and awareness training programs. Ross joined the office around the same time Suzanne Combs, the University’s former victims’ services coordinator, left GW.
Ross played a crucial role in the office, helping to analyze the results of the first and second campus climate surveys. She also oversaw the first mandatory education sessions for incoming first-year students after leaders determined there was a need for more prevention education following the release of the results from the first survey.
After the first year of mandatory sexual assault prevention education, Ross implemented more individualized options for in-person sexual assault prevention training sessions, allowing students to choose from six specialized workshops. She also worked to create specialized trainings for graduate students.
Ross and the Title IX office worked with GW’s marketing and creative services office to revamp Haven, the University website that brings together on-and-off campus resources for students, faculty and staff to respond to sexual abuse, this past summer.
Jocelyn Jacoby, the co-president of Students Against Sexual Assault, said that without Ross, the implementation of the mandatory training sessions that SASA and other student organizations lobbied for would have been difficult.
Jacoby said Ross was always there to help students and survivors, which will be her legacy at GW.
“I know a lot of times people lament the school administration, whether that is justified or not, but you didn’t feel that way with Carrie,” Jacoby said. “Her number one priority was to support survivors and students.”
Student leaders who worked with Ross received an email from her at the end of December saying that she would be moving to another job, Jacoby said. She said she hopes Ross’s replacement has experience working with survivors and will be dedicated to making connections with student leaders.
“She is also a great resource for us to direct survivors to, which is really important because that is definitely something we are a little concerned about moving forward as we wait for the new staff,” Jacoby said. “We always felt really safe giving them to Carrie and now we have to figure out how to navigate the school without her.”
Shan Wu, a former Department of Justice sex crimes prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney specializing in student legal issues, said that a university dealing with the resignation of a key staff member should hire an outside law firm or private investigative firm to review and temporarily staff the position, while formulating the right criteria to use when looking for a replacement.
“Turnover provides a great opportunity to revise and improve existing systems,” Wu said.
Hiring for three positions
Csellar said the new Title IX investigator will conduct investigations of all allegations and violations of GW’s sexual harassment and violence policies and the threats and acts of violence policy. The paralegal associate will focus on tracking cases and communicating with all of the parties involved in the case, she said.
“Both positions will be responsible for serving as a member of a team that provides administrative, educational and leadership to support the university’s compliance requirements,” Csellar said.
The new positions will be funded through reallocation of current funds within the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and the Office of the Provost, she said.
Most of GW’s peer schools, including Georgetown University, have Title IX investigators on staff. The same is true of the universities of Southern California, Missouri, Connecticut and Miami.
Samantha Berner, a Title IX investigator at Georgetown University, said her role is to investigate claims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. During the investigation process, she interviews the complainant, respondent and witnesses with relevant information, and reviews evidence to draft a report, she said.
“It is important to have an investigator who is appropriately trained to handle the complicated nuances of these types of investigations,” Berner said. “If students know that their claim of sexual misconduct will be handled in this manner, hopefully, they’ll be more likely to come forward and report to the university.”
She said that even if there are no active investigations by the Office of Civil Rights into the university, a Title IX investigator is still responsible for conducting investigations of allegations within the university.
Jody Shipper, the co-founder of Project IX and the former executive director of the Office of Equity and Diversity and chief Title IX administrator at the University of Southern California, said students need to know they can turn to their universities for help in situations of sexual misconduct, and that adding more staff members can increase students’ awareness of resources.
Leaders at institutions have recognized that if they don’t have enough personnel in the Title IX office, it can slow down the division’s ability to handle cases, Shipper said.
“We can’t hold someone accountable until you have had that process and if you don’t have enough personnel then students might have to wait even longer before their case is handled and that contributes to additional trauma,” Shipper said. “So staffing up those offices is critical.”