Dear USF Community,
We write today with an update on the next steps that Fr. Fitzgerald and Board Chairman John Nicolai referenced in their message to the community on Jan. 25 following the publication of the independent investigators’ report on allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the men’s soccer team.
First and foremost, we know how difficult it is for survivors of sexual assault to come forward. We are committed to supporting survivors. We also understand and acknowledge that, regardless of what was included in the report by the independent investigators, hurt and mistrust exist in our community. Our goal is to work together to rebuild that trust. We are committed to creating a culture and community at USF that stands in firm and demonstrable opposition to any and all instances of sexual misconduct and acts of discrimination.
This vital work is ongoing and complex. We know we must continue to address attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that contribute to violence through education, skill building, and curriculum infusion. We are committed to supporting healthy group norms and promoting bystander intervention. We are committed to having a process in place that empowers members of our community to come forward when they witness or experience discrimination and misconduct.
We must convey clear expectations for conduct among students, faculty, staff, and visitors. We need to ensure our policies and procedures are comprehensive and our community understands and feels represented and heard. We must provide a range of educational and support services for our students, including comprehensive and compassionate services for survivors.
As a reminder, the independent investigation was necessary to supplement our own ongoing Title IX work and to explore whether there is or was a culture of sexual misconduct in our athletics program. It was also intended to explore whether our own Title IX process operated effectively and responsibly. The resulting 53-page report is available, in its entirety and unedited, on the university’s website.
Following are updates to our ongoing work. These are posted on our Title IX site, where all future updates will be available.
Deputy Title IX Coordinator Search
The search for the deputy Title IX coordinator has been underway since November. A committee of university staff and students convened to review the applications. After a first round of phone interviews, three finalists were identified and virtual campus interviews took place. Students were involved in the campus interviews. Our new deputy Title IX coordinator will be announced to the community soon. Once the position is filled, one of the projects for the deputy coordinator will be to convene the updated Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Committee, which was developed with ASUSF representatives, to focus on community-wide awareness, prevention, and educational efforts.
Sexual Violence Resource Advocate
The sexual violence resource advocate position has been posted, and candidates will be interviewed as soon as possible. This position is housed in CAPS and will be supervised by the associate dean/director of CAPS. The advocate will serve as a part-time clinician in CAPS as well as a dedicated confidential resource for victims of sexual violence. The new advocate will not be considered a mandatory Title IX reporter.
Community-Wide Listening Sessions
In December, it was determined that listening sessions would be best held after the report from the independent investigators was completed and shared with the community. Plans for the listening sessions include hybrid in-person/virtual sessions to ensure community-wide attendance. We will reach out to possible outside facilitators this spring. We will schedule fall listening sessions that will incorporate information from the report, and will introduce the new deputy coordinator and resource advocate to the community. Jess Varga, Title IX coordinator, Shannon Gary, associate vice provost/dean of students, and both of us have met with ASUSF leaders who have been excellent partners in this planning.
Policy on Nondiscrimination Based on Sex and Gender
The new Policy on Nondiscrimination Based on Sex and Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Misconduct for Students, Employees, and Third Parties is available on the Title IX website. A community-wide message was shared last fall with details on how to access the policy, how to report incidents to the Title IX office, and how to access available resources. Updates will continue to be made to our policy and procedures to comply with any new changes in the law and to incorporate feedback from our community and best practices that emerge from the field.
Title IX Program Review
The Title IX office will undergo a comprehensive program review during the fall 2021 semester. Each unit/department in the Division of Student Life participates in this process in which outside experts meet with faculty, staff, students, and partners to review the unit/department and make recommendations. This process begins with a self-study.
The new deputy coordinator will conduct an extensive review of the Athletics Student Handbook as it pertains to sex and gender discrimination, harassing behavior, and sexual misconduct. This will include reviewing additional expectations the university has for student athletes, how these are communicated, and how student athletes are held accountable. They will also identify and fix gaps in the communication between the Title IX office and the Department of Athletics.
Rebuilding Trust and Community Working Group
We will also appoint a small working group composed of students, faculty, and staff to read the report and make recommendations on steps that Athletics and Student Life can take to rebuild trust within our community. This work will begin this semester.
Monthly Title IX Programming Opportunities
A monthly “Time with IX” program will take place on the second Thursday of each month at 12 p.m., beginning March 11. These regular sessions will allow for different topics to be discussed and provide an opportunity for the community to discuss information on trends, rumors, issues, and questions. At these sessions, no reporting takes place nor is there any discussion of individual incidents.
In addition to the items summarized above, we are continuing a thorough review of the investigators’ report and are taking steps to:
- Build stronger relationships and collaborations with ADEI and the Gender and Sexuality Center regarding gender, gender identity, and gender expression.
- Build an intentionally diverse pool of process advisers to serve during Title IX investigations.
- Review and identify gaps in the Title IX Training Plan, which will also be posted to the Title IX site, so all community members are aware of who receives additional training and how to attend and or request additional workshops on topics related to sexual violence and Title IX.
We will continue to update you on the steps we are taking and ways you, too, can participate. Thank you for your participation in this vital and ongoing work, and for all you do to help ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of our students and all members of our community.
Joan McDermott, Director of Athletics
Julie Orio, Vice President of Student Life