As DePaul’s Title IX office rebrands, new director aims for transparency

Ann+Skiffington%2C+an+attorney%2C+was+named+the+director+of+Gender+Equity.+The+Office+of+Gender+Equity+and+the+position+replaced+the+Title+IX+office+and+coordinator.
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As DePaul’s Title IX office rebrands, new director aims for transparency

Ann Skiffington, an attorney, was named the director of Gender Equity. The Office of Gender Equity and the position replaced the Title IX office and coordinator.

Ann Skiffington, an attorney, was named the director of Gender Equity. The Office of Gender Equity and the position replaced the Title IX office and coordinator.

Jeff Carrion / DePaul University

Ann Skiffington, an attorney, was named the director of Gender Equity. The Office of Gender Equity and the position replaced the Title IX office and coordinator.

Jeff Carrion / DePaul University

Jeff Carrion / DePaul University

Ann Skiffington, an attorney, was named the director of Gender Equity. The Office of Gender Equity and the position replaced the Title IX office and coordinator.

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DePaul’s Title IX office has undergone significant changes over the past few months, including an increase in accessible information online and the hiring of new staff. The DePaulia sat down with Ann M. Skiffington, the new director of gender equity — formerly called the Title IX coordinator — to discuss the direction she hopes to move the office.

Though DePaul’s Title IX office is more evolved than many across the country, areas in which significant growth was needed were reported on by The DePaulia last spring, including issues with the department’s communication and accessibility and concerns raised by the former Title IX coordinator’s track record in her former positions. That coordinator, Jessica Landis, left the university in May.

Skiffington shared how she would like to lead the office and how she hopes to improve it.

“I hope to build on the best practices and programs that DePaul already has, which are really good as far as changes,” she said. “We continuously seek to improve in every area. We’re always looking for opportunities to get better, and that’s what we’re engaging in now.

“We’re looking at whether we can train and communicate even more and how,” Skiffington said. “And I’ll be reaching out to others, faculty, staff, students, talking personally to individuals, asking them.”

She added that the office has printed and distributed informational pamphlets to distribute around campus so students can be more aware of their services and the rights they are promised under Title IX.

Chicago Quarter classes have employed live training orientations regarding issues surrounding sexual misconduct, in addition to a pre-existing online course, she said.

The course covers “Title IX, including student responsibilities and rights, respect for each other’s boundaries, DePaul’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention and Response Policy, where to find additional information on DePaul’s website, consent and how to ask for it, bystander intervention to prevent harm before it occurs, where and how to make a report and resources for assistance like [The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness],” Skiffington said in an email.

Before she joined DePaul’s staff, Skiffington was the vice president of human resources for Midtown Athletic Clubs, where much of her work addressed and prevented harassment and discrimination claims. She also was a labor and employment attorney for Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

She said she acquired the skills necessary to decipher Title IX through these jobs. The nuance of the federal law is made apparent when implemented at universities — and Skiffington hopes to dispel misconceptions surrounding it in her new position.

One of the key complaints Skiffington addressed was the notion that Title IX officers cannot serve as advocates for trauma survivors. Skiffington repeatedly emphasized that the department is unable to serve in these roles due to a legal requirement to be impartial.

“This office, the Office of Gender Equity and Civil Rights, must be impartial,” Skiffington said. “That’s not a suggestion. It’s an instruction; it’s a mandate.”

The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) can serve as an advocate for students, though, while Title IX deals with investigations of sexual misconduct.

“HPW counsels and addresses trauma and how to begin to heal,” Skiffington said. “They can talk with students about potential accommodations like getting from faculty an extension on a project, getting certain absences, excused accommodations that can help that student right then and there. HPW then discusses with the students their options.”

Other ways students can report include speaking to Residential Education staff, filling out an incident form available on Title IX’s website and calling a misconduct hotline.

Even before Skiffington was officially offered her position in August, the Title IX office underwent significant change. 

Since the reporting The DePaulia completed last spring, the office has made a clear effort to improve the areas the article addressed. DePaul’s Title IX website now has several tabs which detail different aspects of the law, including discrimination and harassment, pregnant and parenting student rights and athletics, among other things. In addition, the department has added more comprehensive details about reporting, consent and what to do if accused. 

The office has also hired a second gender equity investigator, Kathryn Statz. The role was formerly named “Title IX investigator.”

Skiffington attributed most of these changes to Ashley Knight, associate vice president for student affairs, who held the title of interim Title IX coordinator as the search for a new one took place. 

Knight told The DePaulia in an email that she was unable to comment at the time of publication, as she was “out of the office on university business.”

Though the office has already gone through significant change, it may see even more in the coming months as new Title IX regulations are expected to be rolled out by the U.S. Department of Education.

When asked about how the university will respond to the Department of Education’s planned changes to Title IX as a federal institution, Skiffington said that DePaul will have to comply with the law.

“This is a historic time,” Skiffington said. “There’s robust debates, national debates on what universities should do and how they should do it right. DePaul does not create the law, but we must follow the law. And, so, we are looking forward to these seeing these new regulations and what they entail and then. We will discuss it and figure out how best to comply.”

She added that the office will attempt to deal with cases to the best of its ability in spite of the restrictions placed on the department. 

“That said, no matter what administration is in office, DePaul will continue to address discrimination and harassment, including sexual and relationship violence,” she said. “I don’t think that we can turn back the clock on how far we have come and I want and think we as a society will go even further to address these issues.”

Skiffington emphasized several times that she values transparency and said she hopes to have a good relationship with students, staff, administrators and The DePaulia alike. 

“You’re seeing from my end I’m pretty transparent, because to me, the goal is to work together to make this [department] the best it can be.” she said. “I have an open door policy to bring in all students, faculty and staff.”

 

Correction (Nov. 11, 2019): This story was updated to correct the title of Ashley Knight, the associated vice president for student affairs.