Title IX Office Educates Campus, Supports Victims

Katie Pope and Pam ConnellyNational research shows three out of four victims of sexual harassment or misconduct never tell anyone in authority about it.

At Pitt, a 2015 campus climate survey revealed that one out of five students self-reported being a victim of sexual misconduct. Knowing how many incidents go unreported, the University’s Title IX Office team provides numerous options for reporting, education and training. The goal: Create a campus environment for all students, staff and faculty that is fair, inclusive and free from sexual or gender-based misconduct, including discrimination, harassment and assault.

“You’ve got to get people to talk about it, or the prevention is not going to be effective,” said Katie Pope, who was hired in 2015 as coordinator of Pitt’s Title IX Office. Title IX of the Education Amendment was signed into law in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives any type of federal financial aid.

Pitt has adopted a model for its Title IX office that is considered to be a best practice in higher education, where a Title IX office dedicates its full-time professionals to educating the campus and resolving Title IX cases and serves as a center point to a network of partners across the University. Pitt’s Title IX office leads trained professionals positioned at the regional campuses and partners with personnel in the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Human ResourcesDepartment of Employee and Labor Relations as they provide supportive services to students, staff and faculty. Led by Pope, the University's Title IX team sits in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and is staffed by five full-time professionals dedicated to educating the campus and resolving Title IX cases, including specialists who investigate sexual misconduct cases and conduct educational sessions and an outreach professional dedicated to handling incoming calls and addressing immediate needs. All told, dozens of professionals across the University spend all or some of their time supporting the effort to combating sexual and gender-based misconduct at the University.

With resources customized for undergraduate and graduate students along with faculty and staff, the team’s key responsibilities include:

Education and Prevention: The staff hosts three or four programs across campus each month, and around 20 a month in August and September. The focus: how to identify sexual misconduct, how to intervene, how to report it, how to respond to it and how not to be an offender.

“The background these students gathered from their high school education is what they walk in the door with,” said Pope. ‘If their school never challenged gender norms or never challenged sexual harassment or violence against women, they don’t come in with any different knowledge than that.”

These educational efforts also focus on Pitt employees because Title IX law covers everyone at the University. Every four years, Pitt employees get a refresher course on how to spot and report sexual misconduct. In fiscal year 2018, more than 3,300 people took part as well as 100 percent of athletic department coaches, staff and student athletes. A total of 65 in-person sessions were conducted.

Additionally, the Title IX website has five-minute videos that explain what happens when you report an incident, and how the office works. And training can be customized if a department wants to explore a particular issue.

Collaborations and Partnerships: The Title IX team constantly interacts and collaborates with Pitt partners across campus such as Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education (SAFE); Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE); the ROTC sexual harassment program (SHARP); the Pitt Police; and Unmuted, a student group whose members share stories.

The Title IX team and its partners also support Pitt’s LGBTQIA+ community through resources such as a support group, a working group that affects transgender issues on campus, ties to the student organization Rainbow Alliance, an affinity group run by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and a number of resources for faculty and staff members.

Reporting and Support of Victims: Pam Connelly, Pitt’s vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, says the more reporting increases, the more the University can have a centralized knowledge of what’s happening across campus. “We try to assess if any patterns are appearing. It could be one person. It could also be a building, a certain floor, hallway or restroom,” she said. “We’re always assessing the climate on an active and ongoing basis.”

People experiencing or witnessing sexual misconduct are encouraged to call the office and talk to a representative if they feel they may have a report to make about an incident of sexual harassment or misconduct. “We can help you figure it out,” said Connelly, adding the caller is given options on how to handle their situation.

Pitt community members are welcome to visit the Title IX Office during scheduled office hours without an appointment.

Students can also call 412-648-4034 or email Danielle Brown to schedule an appointment outside of office hours.

Spring 2019 Office Hours

Monday: 11 a.m.-noon
Tuesday: 2-4 p.m.
Wednesday: 10-11:30 a.m.
Friday: 2-3 p.m.

  • The Title IX Office is located on the second floor of Webster Hall (4415 Fifth Ave.).
  • When you arrive at Webster Hall, walk to the back of the building (away from Fifth Avenue) to the elevator.
  • Press the “up” button at the elevator; you will also see a button to the right labeled “University of Pittsburgh.”
  • Press that button to be buzzed up to the Title IX Office.

Title IX professionals at Pitt receive annual professional training from the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Action Against Rape staff support Pitt initiatives, including advising student educators who hold peer-to-peer workshops about consent.

“Everyone on the Title IX team has some type of training in trauma-informed techniques and working with victims of sexual violence,” said Pope.

This was apparent at a recent planning session for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a national campaign, where a committee of 18 was organizing a training session, a resource fair, a candlelight vigil and other activities scheduled for April.

New to the agenda this year is a screening of “Roll Red Roll,” a documentary about the Steubenville, Ohio, teenage girl raped by members of the high school football team in 2012.

The screening was originally scheduled to take place in the evening, until committee member and SHARE director Michelle Welker spoke up. “This may be a trigger for an assault victim who might have to go home and be alone after the film,” she said. “Let’s show it at 5:30 in the afternoon instead.” The nature of the film’s content will be made clear to the audience beforehand and a debriefing session will follow.

Pitt voluntarily participated in another recent national student campus climate survey on the topic of sexual misconduct and the data will be available this fall. Connelly said she expects that the rate of those reporting misconduct may increase from the last survey, but that an increase in recognizing and reporting misconduct is not a bad thing.  

“We’ve been working hard to increase knowledge and trust which should impact reporting,” she said, while also noting that “society is helping us a bit in shedding a light on this issue.”

Her key takeaway: “Reporting is the first step.”