Prevention Training and Education
Prevention and education are those trainings, presentations, and programs that focus on preventing sexual assault/sexual harassment and dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. These activities are also meant to educate faculty, staff, and students on what to do if they experience sexual assault/sexual harassment or if someone reports sexual assault/sexual harassment to them. Faculty, staff, and students receive different content and forms of training and education. Training and education are required for students, staff, and faculty, as per the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreement from a previous case.
Student Training and Education
All new students (including transfer students) under the age of 23 are required to complete a training program called Sexual Assault Prevention for Undergraduates (SAPU). To assure 100% compliance, students must complete the training in order to register for classes. SAPU is provided by a third-party vendor (EverFi.com). These trainings have been largely effective in enhancing students’ knowledge of resources and procedures (see Appendix B for SAPU results). Optional supplemental training is offered through University 101 classes at the discretion of the University 101 instructor. Of the 4,462 students enrolled in fall of 2020, the participation rate in supplemental Sexual Harassment and Violence (SHV) training among University 101 students was 23.7%. Other training programs are available upon request through SAVIP. The Office of the Dean of Students prepares an annual report on all training conducted on sexual assault/sexual harassment. Full reports can be found in Appendix B (Training and Education).
While the initial mandatory training for freshmen students is robust, training and education of students is limited in frequency, scope, and content. With regard to frequency, students do not receive refresher or booster trainings throughout the semester or in subsequent years. Without such training, students are unlikely to fully learn and retain information in the SAPU training, especially about how to navigate the Title IX process if they become involved in an incident. With regard to scope, graduate students are not included in mandatory SAPU undergraduate student training and education. With regard to content, training for students is heavily weighted toward student-against-student instances of sexual harassment and assault to the potential neglect of harassment in relationships with faculty and staff. Athletics is compliant with NCAA mandatory Title IX training, as per the NCAA Policy on Campus Sexual Violence passed in 2017.
Faculty and Staff Training and Education
The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP) offers mandatory sexual harassment training for faculty and staff. This training was first delivered in 2018 with an approximate completion rate among faculty and staff of 80%. (See Appendix B for the Human Relations Month flyer for Title IX required training.) Faculty and staff training is limited in impact, delivery, and content. Regarding impact, while participation in the mandatory training is monitored, there is no accountability for failure to comply and no evidence of its efficacy. The mandatory training was administered in 2018, and refresher or booster training was intended to be an annual administration for faculty and staff. This training was temporarily discontinued because it needs to be modified to conform with new federal regulations issued in 2019. With regard to delivery, the training is delivered asynchronously and must be completed on the employees’ own time, which conveys the message that the training is a low priority and discourages meaningful engagement with the material. With regard to content, there is no training specifically for managers of faculty and staff addressing how to manage employees who are involved in a sexual harassment complaint.
Training and education for staff and students working directly with complainants or respondents
The primary points of contact for complainants are EOP, the Office of Student Conduct (OSC), Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention (SAVIP), and the Division of Law Enforcement and Safety (DLES). Each of these groups serves a different function and has different job requirements. There is thus a need to customize the training to the position. SAVIP offers in-house training to other staff members of EOP, OSC, and managers, and EOP offers in-house training emphasizing the legal and policy aspects of SHV. However, there are no formal standards of training and continuous education for employees in EOP, OSC and SAVIP. Individuals within and across units do not receive consistent, trauma-informed training. (The latest guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)[PDF] does not require but does recommend a trauma-informed approach. However, trauma-informed training and investigation is a controversial issue and has to be applied in a manner that is consistent with regulations.)
Further, it is unclear whether currently available training meets the needs of these positions. Interviews with staff suggested there may be a greater need for trauma-informed training for EOP staff.
Another area of concern is the training of Residence Life student and full-time employees. EOP and SAVIP both provide SHV training for University Housing student resident mentors (RMs) and full-time professional Residence Life coordinators annually, as these students/staff are frequently first line mandatory reporters for incidents occurring in University Housing. Interviews with RMs and Residence Life coordinators suggests these trainings do not address the unique needs of this population. The quality of EOP refresher training was described by RMs as varying widely over time, mostly erring on the side of being too vague and policy-driven rather than offering pragmatic guidance to RMs. Additionally, SAVIP training does not address the unique stressors faced by Residence Life coordinators and RMs (e.g., how to disentangle personal relationships with complainants/respondents).
The Title IX reporting system serves two primary and distinct purposes: assisting victims of SHV by providing support and resources, and providing notice to the university regarding potential SHV, thereby enabling the university to take action to investigate and respond in compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act. Foremost, it is a mechanism for helping victims of SHV. Victims can directly contact the DLES or EOP, the two entities that are responsible for investigating cases. They may contact the DLES for safety-related considerations. Victims can also choose to contact confidential resources for assistance. Often, victims want the support that the confidential resources can provide but prefer to not pursue an accountability process for the respondent. SAVIP, Counseling and Psychiatry, and medical staff are confidential resources who can advise the victim on their options but are legally prohibited from disclosing the victim’s confidential information without consent. As such, they are not mandated to file a report with the institution. Victims may also turn to a faculty member, a peer leader (e.g., RM, University 101 student teacher, Student Success Center student tutor, etc.), or a staff person for advice and assistance. These parties are mandated reporters, required by law to report incidences of SHV to the EOP. Mandatory reporting furthers a second critical purpose of the Title IX reporting system: to provide the university with notice of potential SHV and trigger a legally-required intake and investigation process. Non-mandated third parties – concerned individuals, such as bystanders, who were indirectly involved with an incident of SHV – are free to file a report but are not mandated. When a third party reports an incident, EOP contacts the victim to ascertain whether the victim wants to file a formal complaint and refers the complainant to SAVIP for other forms of support.
The greatest area of concern with the reporting system is the confusion associated with the multiple points of access and reporting forms, as well as confusion about the difference between confidential resources and reporting options. Given the unique needs associated with the two purposes of reporting (offering assistance and compliance with Title IX), it is necessary to have at least two points of access to university resources. Victims’ first need is often support and counseling, rendering EOP, as currently structured, an inappropriate first point of contact. In contrast, mandatory reporters must go to EOP and thus contacting a confidential resource in lieu of EOP is an inappropriate first step. Thus multiple points of access are necessary, but as noted above, there are far more points of access, and victims and reporters alike are liable to find the system extremely confusing. This confusion is illustrated in the proliferation of websites and links for reporting. A related aspect of confusion is terminology. For example, the Stop Sexual Assault webpage contains information about sexual harassment, but many people will not think of sexual harassment as related to sexual assault and it will not occur to them to look on this page for information.
A second area of concern is that reporting an incident is perceived as unnecessarily difficult for complainants. Our research revealed concerns over EOP investigators, who may appear indifferent and intimidating, as a first point of contact for complainants. We believe this impression may result from investigators’ efforts to maintain neutrality and objectivity that is essential to their role. In addition, the web-based complaint forms are off-putting. The language in the forms employs a legalistic, compliance-oriented tone rather than a supportive and interpersonal, sensitive tone. Further, to move forward with an investigation, the complainant is often required to retell their experience repeatedly to various offices which can be retraumatizing.
In summary, the current reporting system presents as fragmented and difficult to navigate and the process of reporting is an adverse and potentially re-traumatizing experience. These challenges create significant barriers to reporting and pursuing a complaint.
Between 2014 and 2020, investigations were conducted by EOP investigators under the supervision of the director of EOP. (See Appendix C for process maps). Investigators were responsible for gathering evidence, conducting interviews, and making determinations of reasonable cause or no cause. A no cause finding results if the preponderance of evidence did not meet the thresholds established in the policy, (See Appendix C for the EOP investigations checklist.) Findings of reasonable cause were forwarded to the appropriate authority (HR and unit manager for staff, and provost and dean for faculty)for determination of sanctions. Student cases with determinations of reasonable cause were forwarded to OSC for a Carolina Judicial Council determination of responsibility (or not) and sanctions. In response to new federal regulations, a new university policy (EOP 1.06 in Appendix C) was adopted as of August 2020. Under this policy, EOP conducts the investigation but does not determine the finding. Instead, the case is advanced to informal resolution or to a formal hearing and adjudicated by an external hearing officer.
An analysis of EOP cases from 2016 – 2020 indicated that most reports (80%) were closed without finding. About 7% of reports were not formally investigated because the alleged conduct did not fall within Title IX policy or it fell outside the jurisdiction of EOP (e.g., the respondent was not part of the USC community). This assessment is made by the director of EOP. Of the remaining cases, roughly 78% are closed without a finding.
We were able to analyze the underlying reasons for cases reported in the 2019-2020 academic year. In over half of all reported cases, complainants did not want to proceed with an investigation, either because they were only seeking support (20%) or because they disclosed the incident without intention to file a complaint (31%). The high proportion of complainants who opt not to pursue an investigation raises concerns over why individuals may be reluctant to file complaints, specifically the extent to which they may be intimidated at the prospect of pursuing an investigation. Given that investigators need to conduct investigations without bias, they may appear indifferent or uncaring to complainants. Additionally, written communication templates for correspondence with complainants and respondents revealed use of legalistic and technical language and a cold, uncompassionate tone of communication that can be perceived as intimidating by both complainants and respondents. (See Appendix C for EOP correspondence templates). Further, some of our interviews suggested that communication of decisions to all relevant parties – complainant, respondent, manager and oversight – is not consistent and timely.
The remaining attrition in cases that go to investigation is also noteworthy because it may obscure unresolved behavioral problems. Some complaints that are not investigated because they do not meet the definition of SHV involve other forms of inappropriate behavior (e.g., bullying) and are referred back to the unit with recommendations for corrective action. Once referred, EOP lacks the authority to assure corrective action is taken and monitoring of the respondent continues. Indeed, we found no easy way to determine the disposition of these cases once they left the EOP’s jurisdiction. This is concerning, particularly in the case of bullying, which often co-occurs with sexual harassment. This issue points to a broader concern of coordination and communication across units and offices.
An additional area of concern is the differential rates of findings. As noted, of the 1,055 cases reported to EOP, only a small number of cases, 209, resulted in a formal investigation and finding, with 112 “no cause” findings and 97 “reasonable cause” findings. Of those cases resulting in findings, a reasonable cause finding occurred more often for complaints against students (54%) and staff (45%) than those against faculty (18%). That is, cases against faculty are far less likely to result in a reasonable cause finding. There are many reasons why there may be differential rates of finding reasonable cause across cases involving students faculty and staff. Differences in cause findings may be in large part be attributable due to differences in the nature of cases involving students faculty and staff (e.g., student cases are more likely to involve violence).
A final area of concern is that some SHV cases may be enforceable under both Title IX and Title VII. This is significant because the definition of sexual harassment and grievance processes differ under the two titles. Moreover, like other forms of employment discrimination, violations of Title VII are still investigated and adjudicated through EOP. However, EOP does not have documented guidelines to determine when a case should be investigated under one title versus the other. This is a problem that was identified in an internal audit in 2016, where it was recommended that… “EOP management develop procedures to guide and document the rationale for why a sexual harassment/ violence case is investigated under one statute versus the other.”
Adjudication and Discipline
Prior to 2020, discipline was administered differently depending on the role of the respondent. Reasonable cause findings from an EOP investigation involving a student respondent were referred to the Office of Student Conduct, which determined whether the student was responsible and, if warranted, the appropriate sanction. In the case of faculty, the determination of discipline was made in consultation with the provost and unit leadership (e.g., the dean). In the case of staff, representatives from Human Resources worked with the manager of the employee to determine appropriate disciplinary action. (See Appendix E, HR 1.39 policy on progressive discipline.) Under the new federal regulations (May 2020) and University policy (EOP 1.06, Appendix E which includes a sanctioning chart), all Title IX cases after August 2020 are adjudicated by an external hearing officer, who, in the case of students, will determine the disciplinary action and, in the case of faculty and staff, recommend disciplinary action for faculty and staff. At any time during the investigation and adjudication process, parties can opt for informal resolution provided that both parties consent to the informal resolution with the Office of Student Conduct (in the case of students), the unit leadership (in the case of faculty), Human Resources (in the case of staff). Where a student is the complainant and the respondent is a faculty member, informal resolution is not an option.
One area of concern is the discipline of faculty respondents. According to the Faculty Manual, the faculty are responsible for “…other matters pertaining to the conduct of faculty affairs, including the discipline of their own members.” However, there is currently no faculty-governed mechanism for determining and enforcing any discipline short of tenure revocation. The only mechanism (the tenure review board) only applies to tenure revocation (i.e., the tenure review board is not empowered to enact any other discipline). Further, the grounds for termination do not clearly specify the nature of the violations, but broadly state “misconduct related directly and substantially to the fitness of the faculty member in the professional capacity as teacher or researcher.” For tenure-track faculty, termination follows a process specified in the faculty manual, which includes a review by the Tenure Review Board and a determination by the President. Non-tenure-track faculty may have their contracts terminated, which has occurred for at least two faculty members in recent years.
A second issue specific to faculty and staff is there is some inconsistency in the execution and/or documentation for discipline. For both faculty and staff, these inconsistencies point to poor coordination between EOP, the relevant oversight authority (provost office or Human Resources) and the local unit leadership. For staff cases, this problem manifests in a lack of correspondence between the EOP database and the document management databases used in HR regarding the disciplinary action recommended and taken. For faculty cases, it manifests in a lack of consistent and centralized documentation of disciplinary action, and poor communication between the provost’s office and the unit leadership. This lack of consistency in documentation does not appear to be a problem with OSC, because it has a centralized reporting structure for disciplinary actions and the authority to enforce the sanctions.
A third issue is the disposition of cases in which there is inappropriate behavior that falls short of a reasonable-cause finding. In such cases, the appropriate authority is notified of the inappropriate behavior and recommendations for corrective action or monitoring. However, EOP has no authority to enforce such recommendations, and there is no current mechanism to assure that the behavior is being monitored and/or corrective action has been taken. This is a challenge noted by EOP, and it has suggested a process to address non-policy violation, but this process has yet to be formalized (See Appendix C for handling non-policy violations). The lack of guidance is particularly troubling for staff and academic managers who may be ill-equipped to manage employees with behavioral problems.
Advocacy and Support
Advocacy for student complainants appears to be robust with support services being provided through SAVIP. SAVIP provides advocacy, support, and access to other services (e.g., academic, health, housing protection). In addition, the DLES provides a trained victim’s advocate for criminal investigations. Cozen O’Connor, a law firm recognized for its expertise in Title IX hired by the University to support the work of the Task Force, has provided a website for anonymous comments regarding SVH at USC. These comments suggest that complainants were highly satisfied with SAVIP advocacy and for DLES victim’s advocate, although DLES as a whole received a mixed review. These comments are qualitative and anecdotal and may not be representative of the broader university community.
One area of concern with complainant support is the lack of continued review of risk to the complainant. Filing a formal complaint poses a risk of retaliation. The current policies and procedures prohibit retaliation and offer means of protecting the complainant from further harassment and retaliation. However, cases often reflect on-going problems that can be volatile. Thus, initial measures to minimize risk to the respondent may prove less effective as the case evolves.
In the last three years, a Student Title IX and Interpersonal Violence Respondent Resource Committee was created to support student respondents through the investigative process. Respondents are often stressed and are apt to be intimidated by current EOP communications and procedures. The Respondent Resource Committee is an important but currently underutilized resource for respondents in student incidents. In practice, few respondents end up utilizing the services of the Respondent Resource Committee.
Interviews with representatives of the Respondent Resource Committee and members of housing staff that have first-hand experience working with respondents revealed a mistrust of EOP and its processes related to the respondents. Similarly, a review of current procedures and written communications between EOP and respondents revealed use of a legalistic and technical language and a clinical tone of communications that may be perceived as intimidating and threatening by many respondents. Of note, EOP’s Notice of Allegation (4-5 pages single spaced letter conveying the allegation) is confusing to read, switching from addressing the recipient directly (e.g., “you….”) to indirectly (e.g., “the respondent” “any party”). (See Appendix C for EOP correspondence templates). Further, the document does not effectively highlight the important supportive services; for example, the Respondent Resource Committee contact information is not provided until page 3. Finally, the overall tone of the document does not convey the presumption of innocence in a manner that engenders trust. In totality, the current interactions between EOP and respondents are likely to induce anxiety in many respondents and do not represent the University well.
Broader Areas of Concern
Organization and structure
Appendix D provides organizational charts for EOP, the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Support, SAVIP, Athletics, Human Resources, and the Office of the Provost. The position descriptions for the relevant Title IX staff in each unit are also provided in Appendix D.
Two support areas appear to be understaffed. The first is SAVIP with four full-time employees and five part-time graduate assistants, and a caseload averaging 128 per year. SAVIP’s primary clients are students, but since Student Health Services has changed its mission to include serving all USC faculty, staff, and students, SAVIP is likely to experience an expansion in its caseload. The second is EOP, with six full-time investigators and a caseload averaging 337 per year, in addition to Title IX, VI and VII investigations. Further, the scope, requirements, and reporting structure for Deputy Title IX Coordinators positions is lacking clarity. In all of these areas, it may be informative to review the job descriptions and assure that job qualifications are aligned with duties. As noted in the evaluation of training and education, expectations for knowledge and skills in both trauma-informed practices and policy and procedures, along with the qualifications for these positions, may need further clarification.
Communication and coordination
Many entities are involved in reporting, investigating, adjudicating cases and providing support to both complainants and respondents. There is an apparent lack of follow-through and inadequate communication in handoffs between parties. (i.e., EOP, OSC, SAVIP, HR, Title IX deputy coordinators). This lack of communication and coordination results in complainants having to retell their stories, which can retraumatize the complainant. There is also a lack of shared ownership over cases. For example, there were instances in which EOP failed to communicate with the advocates in the supporting offices at important decision points (i.e., not communicating when a decision has been made, so support services are not mobilized). Further, in instances of faculty/staff misconduct, there appears to be limited communication between EOP, local management, HR and the provost’s office, once a case is closed by EOP. The lack of accountability of local management is particularly concerning, given that the employee’s manager is crucial to monitoring and compliance of the employee going forward.
Overlapping jurisdictions/ambiguous lines of authority
Offensive behavior manifests in numerous ways, and potential violations of Title IX may co-occur with potential violations of other titles or with bullying in violation of university policy. (See Appendix E, ACAF1.80 policy on workplace bullying.) There is not a clear mechanism for coordinating and communicating between these cases. Further complicating the lines of authority is the role of the Faculty Civility Advocate who responds to complaints of workplace bullying.
Information management is decentralized to a dysfunctional degree. Each office – EOP, OSC, SAVIP, and DLES – track reports/claims of SHV. Two of these entities, EOP and OSC, utilize the same data management platform, Maxient. However, they are on separate licenses, preventing the integration of information. More attention to detail in setting up Maxient and fully utilizing the power of the platform would allow a more thorough and accurate analysis of trends.
Annual reporting of activities is decentralized, with reports going to different entities. Each of the entities presents a partial view of SHV at the institution and without an integrated report, important trends may go undetected. While all reports are available upon request, only DLES provides a public annual report in conformance with the Clery Act, which is available on its website.
Despite the numerous areas with room for improvement in the training, reporting, investigating, and adjudication of SHV cases we have noted, we recognize that the university has a sound foundation of organization, policy, and procedures in place. However, the enactment of policies and procedures requires a deep commitment to, and trust in, the purpose of the enterprise. The results of a university culture survey administered in the fall of 2019 suggests that these conditions are lacking. Specifically, the belief that procedures are fair and employees are held accountable, that ethical conduct was a top priority, and that the university is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), were all rated relatively low. While these concerns are broader than SHV, it is difficult for offices responsible for addressing SHV to operate in an environment lacking strong support for DEI.
The culture among students is a second area of concern. Alcohol.edu reports from 2019-2020 indicate students at USC are more likely to drink greater quantities and more frequently than students at other SEC schools, and they experience greater consequences because of their drinking. While there is never an excuse for sexual assault, students who are intoxicated are more vulnerable to sexual assault. Fifteen percent of first-year women and 11% of first-year men who reported drinking in the past two weeks also reported being taken advantage of sexually. This is higher than the national average for both men and women. Seven percent of first-year men and 3% of first-year women who reported drinking in the past two weeks also reported taking advantage of someone sexually. This is consistent with the national average. These behaviors are contrary to the tenets of the Carolinian Creed which espouses respect for rights and property of others, respect for the dignity of all persons, and demonstrate concern for others, their feelings, and their need for the conditions which support their work and development.
Lastly, the shared climate of the units directly involved in addressing SHV is a concern. As noted, the coordination and communication between these units is lacking, which inhibits the creating of shared values and a cooperative ethos. Further, there is an inherent tension between compliance and advocacy, which has contributed to conflict between units. This tension, coupled with the lack of effective communication and coordination, has led to a dysfunctional degree of conflict.