Op-Ed: 50 Years with no teeth, Title IX reform is long overdue


Eric Henry

Students walk on the Quad, located on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.

This letter is co-written and co-signed by a group of current and former DePaul students. They have requested anonymity.

As the school year begins, we are in what is known as the “red zone,” the period from the start of the school year to Thanksgiving when over half of the sexual assaults that take place on college campuses happen.

On Sept. 1, 2022, the DePaul community received a Public Safety notification about two sex offenses committed on campus by the same offender. This report is not an exception to the rule, it is the expected order of events at every university in the United States. It should not be. Fall quarter is supposed to be exciting and bring new experiences, but that is not the case for either of the students who were victimized last week. Instead, they are now dealing with the trauma that resulted from these incidents, and are also likely experiencing re-victimization at the hands of the Office of Gender Equity (OGE).

This opinion piece was in progress before that notification, but we felt increased urgency to get this published as a result. While public safety claims these events are being investigated and sent a link to DePaul’s Title IX policies regarding sexual violence, too many of us remember what happened when we were told the OGE would be handling a complaint about one of the most traumatic incidents in our lives and fear that any response from OGE will not address the systemic issues that prevent victims of sexual harassment and violence from receiving justice.

On Aug. 1, DePaul’s new president Rob Manuel sent a letter to the DePaul community regarding his vision for DePaul going forward. In that letter, he detailed categories of concerns he heard from students, staff and faculty, as well as made promises to continue discussions with the community for the first 125 days of the school year. Today, we’d like to ask President Manuel if his plans for DePaul University include actual progress, change and student well-being.

DePaul’s Title IX office, the Office of Gender Equity, theoretically exists to address incidents between students, and between students and staff and faculty. The office exists specifically for addressing issues involving students. Yet, this office reports directly to the Vice President for Student Affairs, who reports to the Provost, the second-highest ranking administrator at the university. Why then would this office be inclined to undertake issues between faculty/staff and students? It would not. This is a clear conflict of interest. The Office of Gender Equity does not belong within a university hierarchy that directly caters to faculty and staff, especially in a university where the Ombudsperson exists as a clear precedent for neutral parties within the university. 

DePaul’s Human Resources office is even more troubling. Not only is the HR office in the Loop Campus, making it difficult for Lincoln Park students to physically get to, but their automated email response telling people to expect a response within 24-48 hours almost never seems to yield an actual reply, regardless of the type of violation or incident that students report.

Finding students who have been subject to a continuous refusal by the Office of Gender Equity and the Human Resources office to do their jobs is an easier feat on this campus than to find students who have seen either office investigate and come to a final decision. Even if you do happen across a student who has gone through a Title IX investigation, it is unlikely that their experience will have been positive or that they feel that they would report to the Office of Gender Equity if they experienced another issue.

These offices have remained in place without consequence despite the numerous DePaulia articles that have been written for the past seven years. We see the beginning of this school year as an opportunity for change and DePaul has a new president who seems committed to redefining standards at higher education institutions and ensuring the well-being of students. 

It is one thing to listen to student concerns and another to address the systemic problems that have led to the victimization and revictimization of students at DePaul University for years.   Today, we’d like to ask the president to make good on his Aug. 1 letter and not only continue the discussion, but take action to make a difference in the lives of students who have been victimized by DePaul University.

 We’ve found three large issues with the functionality of OGE and HR at DePaul:

         Hierarchy and Conflict of Interest

         Both Offices’ Continual and Absolute Failure of Students

         Distrust from Students

The first is relatively simple. As previously stated, OGE exists in a power structure that poses a continual conflict of interest when addressing issues between students and staff or faculty members. The solution is simple. Remove OGE from that power structure immediately and create an independent structure, like the one that already exists for the Ombudsperson. Addressing this problem is a first step in correcting years of abuse by that office, but it is by no means the end of the reform that needs to take place.

The second issue is structural, ongoing and continuous. Students are made aware that OGE exists when they arrive, but never receive any further information regarding why or when to file, how to do so, or where the policies and procedures are. If the office intends to handle incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, ADAH violations and other sex-based discrimination on campus, it must make itself known to students, offering information on what the office does and how to address incidents students have. 

Students who do experience violence or harassment and report it to the office are often met with an intake and ambiguous “next steps” which involve OGE deciding if the issue warrants an investigation. Often, OGE does not even make students aware that there are other offices on campus that can help them through these situations, such as counseling. Many students then do not hear from OGE until their reports are dismissed without investigation and with little reason. It is disturbingly easy to find students at DePaul who have been told that the violence or harassment they suffered was not sufficient enough to warrant an investigation, something that is deeply problematic and invalidating.

On occasion, and with alarming infrequency, students are informed by OGE that their report will be investigated. While this may appear on the surface to be good news, what transpires afterwards often leaves students feeling alone and unsatisfied. A lot of the time, students are not sent or informed of the process of an investigation unless they ask, but are told that the entire process is to remain confidential. If students do ask questions, they are often met with curt, rude or dismissive responses that make them feel like an annoyance. It is an unnecessarily isolating and traumatic experience for those students. When an investigation finishes, students receive a letter with the finding, but are largely unable to know what, if any, actions will be taken except to the extent that it directly involves them. Therefore, the feeling of justice or relief is largely not felt.

The final issue we’d like to address today is easily the most complicated, if only because it is a result of the other two issues raised. The continual failure of OGE and HR to address sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination on campus has led to intense distrust of both offices among the student body. Previous reporting from The DePaulia highlights the sentiment held by much of DePaul’s student population, including some of the students who have cosigned this letter. Reporting to OGE is an abusive process that will not address the problem at hand. Solving this issue will not be easy and is not attainable until the previous two issues have been addressed. The systemic failures of Title IX at DePaul University are too great to rebuild any sort of student trust without intensive review, reform, and change.

This is not a new problem. OGE in particular has been the subject of student ire many times before and nothing has changed. From concerns about the office’s accessibility to the questionable history of the current OGE director, DePaul has continually failed to address the systemic issues facing students within the university. Today, we are challenging President Manuel to do what his predecessors have failed to do. For too long, DePaul has ignored student concerns, refusing to hear the issues that students face or take action. Inaction can no longer be the default. A university professing systemic change and Vincentian values, constantly challenging its students to ask what must be done, has to hold itself to the same standard of moral, ethical and progressive values.