UNC’s New Title IX Leader Talks On-Going Reforms To Sexual Assault Policies

CHAPEL HILL – In his first month as the UNC’s new Title IX Compliance Coordinator, Howard Kallem has taken on the challenge of heading up an expanding department charged with monitoring sexual harassment cases on campus.

This coming at a time when the pressure in on UNC leaders to make changes and reform current policies due to past controversy involving the handling of sexual assault cases.

Sexual assault on college campuses is currently an important topic of conversation, not only in Chapel Hill, but across our state and even in Washington D.C.

President Barack Obama recently announced the creation a national task force to combat sexual assault, particularly at the University level.

Prior to assuming the position at UNC in January, Kallem worked as Chief Regional Attorney of the District of Columbia Enforcement Office for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

“It has been an incredibly steep learning curve to understand all of the procedures and processes at the University and to just get a sense of the culture here,” Kallem said.

Howard Kallem, photo courtesy UNC

Howard Kallem, photo courtesy UNC

UNC’s Title IX Office is expanding in 2014 with Kallem and the most recent hire, Hilary Delbridge, the Title IX public communications specialist, coming on board.

Delbridge’s hire sparked criticism on campus. Andrea Pino, who co-filed a Title IX complaint in January 2013 criticizing UNC’s handling of sexual assault, told the Daily Tar Heel that it was merely a PR position. Pino suggested that the University needed to stop treating “scandals as scandals” and focus on fixing its problems internally.

Kallem said that the communications officer position is not a just a “PR job,” rather, he said Delbridge will serve as liaison to hear from the community about “what we [the office] are doing right and what we could be doing better.”

The Title IX Office is in the process of filling two additional positions—another case investigator and a program coordinator to help with training.

“I have to say that it is quite unusual for the University to devote this level of resources to this issue, which is why I took the job,” Kallem said. “Most colleges will have a Title IX coordinator. They are required to do so by Title IX law, but it is often someone who is an assistant athletic coach, or they might be in the human resources department, and it is the second or third responsibility for them.”

Since the spring of 2013, UNC’s Title IX Task Force has been working to address student-on-student sexual misconduct.

The 22-member task force is broadly based, including students, faculty, and staff members who specialize in this area.

Chair of the Task Force, Christi Hurt, served as interim Title IX Coordinator and is also director of the Carolina Women’s Center. Kallem, who has been to two Task Force meetings, said he is benefiting from the work that Hurt has done.

The Task Force is taking time to develop a complaint process that is tailored to the needs and concerns of the students, Kallem said, rather than to those of the administration.

“The goal is to come up with a policy that the community will be into. The way to do that is to have input from the various segments in building the policy from the very start,” he said. “I think all those have the building blocks certainly to develop a process here and change the culture here in a way that could be very interesting and unique in the country.”

Kallem said there has been frustration expressed on campus about the progress of the Task Force, with some members of the UNC community wanting to see results of its work sooner. Kallem explained that there are still issues that need to be addressed, such as the judication process of complaints.

Once the policy has been rewritten, it will be presented for campus community feedback and then will go before administration for final review.

Kallem did not have an anticipated completion date for the work of the Task Force.

“There are lots of pieces already here that are addressing the issue. My challenge is to knit them together into a comprehensive approach and identify any gaps where we can improve.”

The Task Force is also trying to ensure compliance with the UNC System’s statewide reforms.


Title IX Candidate Forum: Crystal Coombes

CHAPEL HILL – The first of three candidates up for the position of Title IX Coordinator, Crystal Coombes, says one of her main focuses if she gets the position will to be to make sure reviews of current University police remain an ongoing process.

“I believe, strongly, that the task force that was reviewed and put together should remain in place” Coombes stated.

Those comments were made during a forum for the public to attend which the other two candidates will hold as well.

UNC created the new Title IX Coordinator position in April.  Currently the interim Title IX Coordinator, Christi Hurt, has been working with a task force to change university policies on sexual assault.

Coombes focused on how we can improve the services and education provided to students about Title IX issues. She says she thinks making resources available online will help students to easily reach out for services and education.

“Readily accessible information on the web and in alternative formats,” Coombes said “a student should be able to click onto the UNC site and click a button and be into something that says if this has happened to you x,y,z.”

Coombes says that many people after an incident will not seek out the help because they feel different. She incorporates this concept into her universal design for Title IX and says that she thinks applying universal design to Title IX will remove the need to talk about who is different and allow for more people to openly reach out for services.

“Now the interesting thing about universal design is it removes the need for accommodation, I propose universal design in how we apply Title IX so we remove the need for anybody to talk about who’s different and what has happened” Coombes said.

Coombes also says she would like to make a one stop phone service that could provide students with all the information and resources they need while keeping the concept of universal design.

“Something has just happened to me and there is a 1-800 number and I call it, and it triggers every single thing that is suppose to happen at this university;” Coombes said “It triggers a pure advocate being assigned, it triggers any kind of emergency response, it triggers some sort of assistance, it triggers all of those things and it’s one call and one stop.”

Coombes says she wants to make the availability of resources and information easier for both students and faculty.  Training would be available for people of the community so that they would know how to help people going through a situation, not just students and teachers.  She says she believes the community should be connected when dealing with Title IX matters so that people are not isolated, but can instead have many places to go for help.

The two other candidate forums are with Howard Kallem on Friday and Jayne Grandes next Wednesday.


Sexual Assault Policy Task Force Update

Pictured: Christy Lambden

CHAPEL HILL – UNC’s recently assembled Title IX task force, charged with re-designing the University’s sexual assault policy, met Wednesday for the group’s third meeting so far.

Student Body President Christy Lambden is a member of the group that is dealing with sensitive, and at times, uncomfortable issues. He says they are making headway, though.

“We’re really starting to delve into what we want the policy to look like in the future,” Lambden said.

Lambden is serving along side 21 others from the UNC community, including LGBTQ Director Terri Phoenix, Deputy Chief of the Department of Public Safety, George Hare, and Director of Counseling and Wellness Services, Allen O’Barr.

Christi Hurt, UNC’s new Interim Title IX Coordinator, is the chair of the task force; she’s currently on leave as director of the Carolina Women’s Center.

“It’s a great group to be working with. It’s a diverse group with diverse opinions—but I think that’s exactly what this process needs,” Lambden said.

Gina Smith, a former prosecutor whom Chancellor Holden Thorp recruited in January, is also working with the task force. She’s helping the University sort through the sexual misconduct investigations.

The necessity to review the University’s policies came about after students and faculty members filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights this year. They claimed that the University underreported sexual assault cases, which sparked a federal investigation into the accusations. The task force will follow guidance from the Office for Civil Rights and build on the recommendations of Smith.

The task force meets weekly throughout the summer. Hurt says there’s no defined timeline for when the process will conclude, but she hopes the group can have the new policy in place by the start of the fall semester.