La Sierra University Students, Alumni Hold Public Demonstration for Title IX Reform on Campus

RIVERSIDE - A group of La Sierra University students and alumni demonstrated for three hours today outside the gate of La Sierra University for changes to how La Sierra implements Title IX. Title IX is a federal law in the United States that applies to colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, including from state and local educational agencies. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title IX claims dealing with claims of sexual harassment. According to its website, "OCR evaluates, investigates, and resolves complaints alleging sex discrimination. OCR also conducts proactive investigations, called compliance reviews, to examine potential systemic violations based on sources of information other than complaints."

Juana Muñoz, one of the demonstrators and a senior Religious Studies major at La Sierra, said she got involved in the event because she knew one of several victims of sexual abuse on campus. "The victim shielded her trust in me," Muñoz said. She kept silent until now because she wanted to respect the victim's ongoing Title IX case on campus, she said.

Muñoz said the demonstration was meant to call the attention of students, community members, and passersby to the website www.unsilenced.us. The website includes several candid stories of unnamed victims of alleged sexual assault on La Sierra's campus who have come forward. So far ten students, past and present, have shared their experiences, several of them reporting frustration with university officials who were slow or dismissive in handling complaints. The website also includes a petition that makes seven very specific demands of La Sierra Administration:

Demand One: The Title IX coordinator position must be increased from part time to full time, as mandated by the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (2015).

Demand Two: Publish reports of Title IX activity on a quarterly basis.

Demand Three: Reform the Title IX Investigative Team and Judicial Committee.

Demand Four: Develop, publish, and publicize a Survivor’s Bill of Rights to be provided to each survivor with a hard copy upon reporting.

Demand Five: Clarify, organize, and unify sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policies within the La Sierra University Student Handbook and the Faculty Handbook with the Title IX policy.

Demand Six: Develop and implement a research-based comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy.

Demand Seven: Conduct bi-annual town hall meetings with students.

Before the public demonstration, held at the intersection of Sierra Vista Avenue and Pierce Street between La Sierra University and the La Sierra University Church, the petition had been signed over 440 times. Signatures included current students, alumni and faculty members. Demonstrators say they received hundreds more signatures during the demonstration, as students walked to and from this morning's chapel service held at the University Church.


Current and former La Sierra University students demonstrate outside the campus.

One LSU alumna, Taryn Davis, said she joined the demonstration because she cares about the university "and because we can do better," she said, referring to how complaints of sexual harassment are dealt with.

Katie Cicchetti, a student at nearby California Baptist University who attended La Sierra Academy, said "I'm out here because I believe in supporting victims or giving voices to those who feel like their voices have been taken by those who aren't enforcing the codes that are in Title IX." Cicchetti said she hopes the demonstration will bring awareness. "I hope it will bring awareness to students that you are safe here and you have rights--legal rights and human rights."

During the morning chapel, campus chaplain Pastor Sam Leonor in opening remarks said that the campus takes very seriously the concerns raised by students.

We on this campus stand for a lot of things. One of the things we stand for that we're proud of is that we take the concerns of those who have been hurt—the concerns of victims, the concerns of anyone who has been treated like anything less than the incredible human beings and beloved children of God that they are—we take those concerns really seriously. Some of you are aware of some of the things happening on campus today. We are going to talk about them. That is what we do—we talk about them."

Leonor invited the campus to attend a town hall meeting at 5:00pm this Thursday at the Troesh Conference Center in the Zapara School of Business to allow students. Leonor said he would be moderating the conversation.

A letter circulated by campus email to La Sierra University faculty members provided a response from university president Dr. Randal Wisbey and Dr. Joy Fehr, Associate Provost responsible for the Title IX Office:

Recently, you may have received detailed communications from certain individuals about a Title IX case at La Sierra. Accuracy matters, and it is troubling to see blatant inaccuracies disseminated as if they are facts. However, La Sierra University ethically and legally cannot and will not engage in a point-by-point response about a situation concerning students at this school. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents us from doing so, now or in the future.

What we can say:

• The petition and other messages calling for La Sierra University to “reform” sexual misconduct policy are based on outdated information. The university voluntarily updated its Title IX policy last November. You can read it here: https://lasierra.edu/fileadmin/documents/sexual-misconduct/title-IX-policy.pdf. But despite this policy change, there are some who choose to distort our positions by citing our now-defunct policy.

• A decision has now been reached in the appeal of the Title IX case on campus. That decision affirms some but not all of the points raised in the appeal. We expect the process to be completed soon.

• Again, because of confidentiality obligations, we are legally prohibited from providing any additional details about the case, now and in the future. We do want the entire campus family to know, though, that we take seriously the safety and well being of our students, faculty, and staff.  We look forward to continuing to foster candid and constructive dialogue on the prevention of sexual assault and harassment on our campus.

As a learning community, our deeply-held values speak of our commitment to justice and wholeness.  We work diligently to connect students to important causes that they can give their lives to, and we celebrate faculty and student commitments to make the world a better place.  Ending sexual violence and harassment is something we care deeply about. We are proud of our long history of educational work on these issues on our campus and in our community, and we pledge our continued commitment to support these efforts.

Let us, as a campus community, continue to embrace our commitment to justice and equality and to find new meaning in the words of Micah: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”

This initial news report is part of a larger ongoing story at La Sierra University. We will provide further in-depth coverage of the event as things unfold. Please check back in the coming days for more on this story.

This story initially stated incorrectly that Pastor Sam Leonor spoke in favor of the petition. His chapel remarks were limited to inviting students to attend Thursday's town hall meeting.

 

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7440

Thank you for continuing coverage…

3 Likes

Students’ demands seem reasonable to me, considering that " sex abuse" could include rape,(including “serial” which I sincerely hope is not the case at La Sierra) and/ or manhandling and beating of females. I have no specific knowledge of such behaviours at that wonderful SDA educational institution where high tuition standards are the order of the day I have been told.
However, If I had a daughter attending La Sierra and she was attacked sexually my first response would be to put the matter in the hands of a competent criminal lawyer instructing him/her to cover all relevant bases, so to speak, including meetings with admin/the accused and the terms/administration of Chapter 1X provisions. My advice to Admin is to treat these demands with all due urgency and speed. These young women deserve the best protective efforts possible.

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I read very carefully the www.unsilenced.us website and the heartbreaking stories posted by the students who have experienced rape and an atmosphere of ongoing sexual harassment at La Sierra University. As a parent of a young woman who will soon be attending university, these stories represent my absolute worst nightmare. We want to send our daughter to a school where her thinking will be challenged and where her faith will be encouraged, but to read at least two stories where students in the school of religion were the perpetrators, I can only think what damage it will do when these men achieve their educational objective of becoming ministers in local churches or even conference leaders. To read that the fact that they were in the School of Divinity was given as a reason not to immediately expel them from school and call the authorities so they could be held criminally responsible, and to learn that they are still in classes with these young women is beyond unconscionable - it is sick.

La Sierra is constantly plagued by scandals that are worse than anything any other Christian school would tolerate. This institution celebrated and honored an abortionist who had publicly made racist statements by naming a center after him, and at the same time shield sexual predators. They silence LGBT students and prohibit them from forming supportive clubs while keeping scandalized potential pastors in their positions without thinking twice.

If one of these religion students goes out into a church and continues this behavior, the administrators who knowingly allowed this person to graduate from the institution with a religion degree should be held morally responsible.

It is not as if La Sierra is unaware of how to handle the crisis they are facing. There are Title IX rules on this and guidelines that can be followed but they refuse to do so. If they are unwilling to provide the basic levels of protection that are available in the “worldly” institutions, then they do not deserve to teach our children.

Students at other universities are protesting in favor of “safe spaces” and against offensive speech. La Sierra students are protesting because the institution fails to follow the law when it comes to addressing rapists and sexual harassers and coddles criminal divinity students.

I feel like my daughter’s faith would better survive a secular environment than what is developing at La Sierra over the course of the past few years. She would not be safe there.

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Janet,
Splendidly stated.
My grandson is starting college this fall and in doing research for acceptable colleges, I saw college rankings of several American SDA colleges whose ONLY rankings, we’re not for academic excellence, but for those who had graduated the students with the most student debt!

Not a happy ranking!
That LA Sierra would tolerate rapists on campus while denying LGBT students a safe place to meet on campus is quite frankly nauseating. Not valuing it’s female students is unfortunately right in line with the heinous, heretical headship dogma, so permeating all levels of our denomination.

My advice to prospective students is to choose an instate college/university with the lowest tuition. My grandson is not an Arizona resident, but he did get a scholarship to Arizona State, where he will be a business major in a business school highly rated for its entrepreneurial teaching.

5 Likes

I am fully supportive of all efforts to have exemplary Title IX policies and procedures in place at Adventist universities and colleges. We cannot fail in this area. However, there is undoubtedly another side to this story.

For instance, the first demand is inaccurate.According to OCR’s 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, a full-time Title IX Coordinator is not a mandate, only a suggestion. It states that an institution “must designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title IX and the Department’s implementing regulations. This position may not be left vacant; a recipient must have at least one person designated and actually serving as the Title IX coordinator at all times.” It goes on to acknowledge that a Title IX coordinator may have other responsibilities. “When designating a Title IX coordinator, a recipient should be careful to avoid designating an employee whose other job responsibilities may create a conflict of interest.” It mentions the designation of a full-time coordinator only as an option. “Designating a full-time Title IX coordinator will minimize the risk of a conflict of interest and in many cases ensure sufficient time is available to perform all the role’s responsibilities.” Given this inaccuracy, one has to wonder if La Sierra is not correct in saying that there are “blatant inaccuracies” afoot. Nevertheless, I’m certain their policies and procedures are receiving renewed scrutiny.

Title IX legislation has been a fast-moving target ever since the first Dear Colleague Letter in 2011, and it is not uncommon for institutions of all types to have made fairly recent policy changes and procedural updates, which La Sierra has done. Furthermore, Title IX cases, which are weighed on the basis of a “preponderance of evidence” standard, can be quite difficult to investigate and adjudicate, as they may involve complicated relationship histories, few or no witnesses, and intoxication with varying levels of incapacitation. Training for Title IX investigators, judicial staff, and coordinators is required for good reason. Even then, determining whether or not an allegation has reached the mark of “more likely than not” is no small task, and it is not uncommon for appeals to occur.

It is also no secret that some involved in this campaign are still upset over the banned “sex” issue of the Criterion, which should not be conflated with Title IX concerns. Hopefully, these two issues can be kept separate. Whether or not students can talk about their love of bondage and sado-masochism in a student publication is a very different than questioning a university’s Title IX policies, processes, and prevention efforts.

Finally, I would not want Janet or anyone else to believe that a situation like this would imply that public and other-private institutions are safer for young women. This is a national problem, across higher education. Campuses that include Greek life, co-ed residence halls, and higher levels of alcohol consumption may be at an even greater risk. To be sure, there is work to be done to improve Title IX efforts within Adventist education, and many campuses are even now engaged in that work. But no one should think the grass is greener “out there.” It isn’t.

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Thank you, 2ndOpinion, for sharing a second opinion on the matter. I’m inclined to agree with you that there is, indeed, another side to the story: that LSU and its legal team has been diligent in complying with Title IX, FERPA, and other laws; that emotions have been conflated with unrelated issues; and that issues of sex and violence exist across the board in higher education, and are likely much less on campuses like LSU that prohibit alcohol consumption. Personally, I was impressed by the letter issued by the LSU President, though I have not read the stories at the unsilenced website, and have no reason to doubt that there is truth in some or many of those stories. Dealing with these tragic issues is never a win-win situation; tough decisions get made, and some inevitably will be wrong. But I do agree that victims (primarily women) absolutely need generous support, and hope that LSU (and all campuses) can do a better job of this.

I hope future reporting by Spectrum will remain balanced. I trust that Jerad will do so.

1 Like

Title IX is tricky business because it includes gender-based discrimination of all kinds; the Denomination purposefully supports certain kinds of this and has since it applied for and was given relief from Title IX in 1974 (?) on the basis of religious belief. I honestly don’t know where SDA campuses are now on this issue, but employing full-time coordinators would be a good idea.

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What??? I read that the admin shut down The Criterion? As a former Editor-in-Chief of said publication, I am appalled and outraged. Why would I let my daughter attend such university (she’s in 6th grade but already committed to attending LSU)? Freedom of speech is freedom of speech whether it fits the paradigm or doesn’t. A student run newspaper should have more liberties, especially when its mission is to inform the student body and engage in crucial conversations. Out of this whole scandal, I am disappointed the most by censorship, as if young adults aren’t capable of or don’t deserve to openly discuss what is important to them. This is antithetical to education.

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There is a much bigger issue than people have discussed so far. As far as I can see La Sierra has not requested exemption from Title IX. Yet as part of its policy the University claims to follow SDA teachings on LGBTQ issues and openly discriminates against these students and famously refused to permit them to form a club on campus. This was in the Press Enterprise was it not just like last year or so?

Title IX protects any person from sex-based discrimination, regardless of their real or perceived sex, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Female, male, and gender non-conforming students, faculty, and staff are protected from any sex-based discrimination, harassment or violence.

This applies to La Sierra as well since they are not exempt. If they were exempt they may soon lose CalGrant money because the state lawmakers are saying that they won’t give this grant money to students of institutions that blatantly discriminate by exempting themselves from Title IX. And La Sierra is not on the exempt institutions list so it doesn’t look like it applied. Further they claim (with their lips not their actions) to comply with Title IX!

So LSU wants the money and they want to discriminate? No. That’s not how it works guys. You can’t just comply with part of it and ignore the rest.

So, LSU. It is time to end the charade and open your hearts to full acceptance of the LGBTQ community in every way and stop creating an atmosphere that fosters LGBTQ discrimination and telling the denomination that you’ll comply with its outmoded teachings on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues while trying to claim Title IX compliance. Otherwise, LSU, you are breaking the law that you claim to be keeping.

You can’t have it both ways, LSU! Really follow Title IX and support LGBTQ rights!

4 Likes

A quote used by the “Unsilenced” group: “If you are neutral in instances of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressors.” -Desmond Tutu. I agree and will not remain neutral. What about supporting La Sierra University? What about the injustice being done to its Administration and reputation by the terribly one-sided picture being painted by this group?

It is precisely because of La Sierra University’s compliance with ALL applicable laws that it cannot engage in a point by point rebuttal to the nasty vitriol being spewed against it on the Unsilenced website and social media. This group claims a lack of “transparency” when they are not privy to every detail that has led to decisions with which they disagree.

They also disdain anyone “bringing religion” into discussions of these issues. Yet La Sierra, as a Christian SDA institution is well within its rights to espouse Christian SDA beliefs and values. Those who do not want to live according to those values become highly offended if there is even a hint that certain lifestyle choices make them at higher risk for abuse, be it sexual or otherwise.

My previous comments on this page were removed. I suspect the reason was that they didn’t meet the editor’s requirement to be “concise”. I would hate to think it’s because Spectrum only wants to air the views of those against the University in this instance.

I also suspect it was because while I affirmed my position that sexual harassment, abuse, and rape are wrong under any circumstances, I also dared mention another serious underlying issue. When sex outside the confines of marriage becomes the norm rather than the exception, the road to abuse becomes shorter. Many of the survivor stories on the Unsilenced website state that the abuse began as a result of a relationship that was clearly already sexual. In the words of a gospel hymn, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go.” But woe be it to anyone who still wants to call sin, sin. We are accused of harboring “internal biases” that cause abuse victims to be treated unfairly.

No university is perfect because they are made up of imperfect people. But I believe President Wisbey and the Administration deserve our prayers more than our criticism. I applaud the ways they are attempting to engage with this group. College students and young people have demonstrated for one cause or another for decades. But as these young adults continue along the maturity continuum, I hope they will find that words and actions such as have been part of this effort rarely produce effective change.

1 Like

The “unsilenced” website paints a mixed picture. The first story under the tab “survivor stories” could be a glowing advertisement for La Sierra, and its Christian faculty who go out of their way to care for their students:

"A professor from the department asked me if anything had happened between the guy and I on a specific day. It was the exact day I had given him the letter, and I told the professor this. The professor told me, “He had an altercation with security that day. I’ve seen a sudden and drastic shift in his personality.”
* * *
"The professor immediately set me up an appointment in the Student Life Department to speak with the Dean of Students at that time.
* * *
"The professor went back to the department and held an emergency faculty meeting. The department chose to rally around me. They told me there was nothing they could do about the guy being in the same classes and rehearsals, but they promised to do everything they could to make me feel safe. Nearly every single professor, male or female, came to me privately and asked what I wanted them to do, asked how they could help, asked if I was ok, and gave me their private phone numbers in case I ever needed anything. One even gave me his wife’s cell phone number since she was a rape crisis counselor. He told me his wife said the best thing to do was go back into my journals, text messages, Facebook messages, and record absolutely everything. She’d told him that he was showing all of the signs of preparing for something worse and that I was at great risk.

“Each professor, without fail, had one thing to say to me: “Do not be alone. EVER.” If I didn’t have a friend to walk me to the cafeteria, across the street to a rehearsal, back to my dorm, to class, you name it, a professor from that department walked me. They did this until school let out for the summer.”

Keep in mind that this story bats lead off in the supposed indictment of La Sierra, and yet it tells of a university faculty extraordinarily solicitous and protective of this young lady. Maybe I’ve been too critical of La Sierra in the past?

It is hard to know why this should be a “Title IX” issue, since that law simply says that colleges and universities receiving government money cannot discriminate against females. The Obama Education Dept.'s attempt to use Title IX to address campus sexual assault–and effectively put in place dating or social codes heavily slanted against men–is intrusive, clumsy, ham-fisted, and the most wrong-headed sort of federal intrusion into local matters imaginable. Although . . . I think the bureaucrats in Washington are trying, indirectly or obliquely, to address a real problem: the licentious “hook up” culture that prevails on college campuses, which is degrading and soul-destroying for young women. But the solution is not to adopt a policy that would convert consensual sex into sexual assault if the young lady starts to feel bad about it a few days later.

For our Adventist schools, the solution is to clearly enunciate and enforce Christian standards of deportment and conduct. Consensual sex between non-married persons should result in expulsion. Sexual assault that is promptly reported and corroborated should result in expulsion of the assailant, and his arrest and/or referral to the district attorney for criminal prosecution. If a Seventh-day Adventist Campus needs federal government intrusion to protect its young ladies, it is a terrible indictment of a campus gone far off the rails.

In any case, La Sierra cannot comply with Title IX, as the Dept. of Education currently “interprets” it, and maintain Christian standards of deportment and conduct. A couple of years ago, the Obama Administration unilaterally (and lawlessly) reinterpreted Title IX to include gays and transgendered as protected categories along with women.

Hence, if La Sierra is going to continue to support Christian standards of behavior, if will have to seek a religious exemption from Title IX, as many other Christian colleges are doing.

2 Likes

The recent Pacific Union Recorder has an article by Alan Reinach:

“California Legislature Takes Aim at Cal Grants”

"The California Assembly Bill 1888, if passed, would have all private and religious colleges and universities submit a written declaration that the institution fully complies with the non-discrimination requirements of Education Code Section 220. It would actually prohibit a broad range of religious policies that would be branded as discriminatory. Here are some examples of typical policies or practices that could become illegal forms of religious discrimination:

Compulsory student attendance at campus worships.

Academic requirement that all students take religious courses.

Prohibition on alcohol in dorms.

Restricted use of campus chapels for wedding sanctioned by the denomination.

Hiring policies that prefer hiring members of the sponsoring religion.

Non-compliance would risk the loss of CalGrants.

This would mean a loss to both students desiring to attend religious as well as the religious schools."

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I wonder why Dr. Randal Wisbey and Dr. Joy Fehr didn’t just state something like “We are in full compliance with Title IX, and we apologise that we have not communicated that effectively. Here is how we have complied with every point within title IX:…”

But, that would be too simple. Or, more likely, they can’t say that because once again here is another case where one of our institutions has chosen to not comply with the law.

Good!

Good!

Excellent.

Makes sense. Hopefully it covers any legal substance and Marijuana will on this list as well.

Oh this will be interesting.

That’s fair. I don’t want my taxes being spent to force college students to go to worship. Remember the idea of a separation of church and state? I do, but our schools seems to have missed that.