Survivors struggle to trust UM’s efforts to improve sexual assault complaints process

Opera singer

It was midway through the fall 2019 semester. A University of Michigan student reported to the school’s Office of Institutional Equity that another student had assaulted her..

But the process of trying to get justice through college has been so difficult and long that it has worn it out. (Michigan Radio generally withholds the names of survivors of sexual assault, unless they prefer their name to be used.)

“I will never wear the Block M with pride,” she said. “I’ll never be a ‘Go Blue’ girl. The ‘Block M’ makes me sick, to be honest with you.

The student lost her case in the spring of 2020, more than 200 days after filing her complaint.

“There were weeks when I spent 20 or 25 hours on it. Like it’s a job, ”she said. “I would say I was a very ambitious person. And now I just want to be done. And I don’t care what happens next, as long as I can support myself and get out of here.

In emails shared with Michigan Radio, the student described complaints about repeated attempts to get updates, delays and communication disruptions. In correspondence, she pointed out errors that she tried to correct over and over again, once in contact with Associate Director of the Office of Institutional Equity Tamiko “Tami” Strickman. Strickman said in an email to the student that the delays were due to “internal OIE scheduling conflicts.” There were also more interviews to be done, she added.

The student said that after this email Strickman did not respond to her further inquiries.

At one point, a student advocate wrote in an email that an employee of the Student Dispute Resolution Office sent the student a form with the name of another claimant – life-violating private of that person.

“They are just working in this totally alternate universe where not only does the deadline not matter, but you actually don’t even owe anyone any explanation as to why you are not meeting your deadlines,” the student said.

“In the meantime, I’m tearing my hair out.”

She is one of many who have felt blinded by the University of Michigan and its policies of sexual misconduct. And even as the university makes sweeping changes to its Title IX policies and procedures, legal experts and survivors like this student ask themselves: will this make a difference?

Disorders and “radical changes”

In recent years, a string of heartbreaking abuse stories rocked the school: the late sports doctor Robert Anderson, accused of assaulting hundreds and hundreds of students. Former Marshal Martin Philbert, who has several sexual misconduct complaints against him. Famous opera singer David Daniels, who harassed his students and was charged with sexual assault in Texas. And assistant professor of computer science Walter Lasecki, who resigned after a Michigan Daily survey was published – although the school’s Title IX survey had erased him.

Nisa khan

Grace French, one of the survivors of the Larry Nassar case, joins the protest at the University of Michigan.

The university hired a Guidepost Solutions consultant in December, after a law firm discovered Philbert’s misconduct and concluded that senior officials were aware of his actions. At a board of regents meeting in July, the school outlined the big changes to its policies.

“Let me say today and always to those who may have suffered harm, that we believe you,” said U of M President Mark Schlissel in July. “We appreciate you. And I want you to come forward with confidence in our systems, and without fear of reprisal.”

Thursday, the U of M finalized a sexual misconduct policy, after waiting for new guidelines from the US Department of Education. Regent Jordan Acker said part of the changes were made to protect survivors from further “unnecessary trauma”. The changes, effective October 1, include:

  • Give students the option of using a university-provided advisor – often an attorney from an outside law firm – earlier in the investigation resolution process. (Previously, students had this option during the hearing stage)
  • Clarify reporting obligations for professors and staff
  • An expanded appeal process for employees who violate the sexual misconduct policy
  • All appeals will be decided by an external reviewer
  • A pilot program to use resolution practices “rooted in restorative justice”

Thursday’s Regents meeting was the first in-person session in over a year, due to the pandemic. It was also the first chance survivors of Anderson’s abuse had to meet the regents face to face. Just before the meeting, outside the U of M golf course, a crowd of survivors and supporters gathered with “I deserve to feel safe on campus” signs and shirts. indicating “Hail to the victims”.

“Your apologies are not an apology,” Jon Vaughn, a former University of Montreal running back, who says Anderson repeatedly assaulted him. “You can apologize as much as you want for what Dr. Anderson has done to us. But you never took responsibility for what the university was complicit in, what it allowed and what it hid over the past five decades. There must be accountability. “

Demonstration against UM sexual assault

Nisa Khan

A group that said the late Dr Robert Anderson assaulted them wore shirts marked “Hail Victims”.

In a story reported by MLive, Vaughn called the July policy changes “corporate talk” and questioned the university’s ability to control itself.

The students came to Thursday’s rally to support the survivors. Fueled by his activist nature and the experience of filing his own harassment complaint, which he lost, U of M junior Porter Hughes led the protest chants. He said he was glad the school was taking action, but “frankly … I’ll believe it when I see it.” Students like him even take the time on game days to distribute flyers and publicize the university’s handling of sexual misconduct.

Regent Jordan Acker thanked the survivors for their words and said he was limited in what he could say due to court orders and confidential mediation. He pointed to the new measures which he said will help the university to ensure that “nothing like this happens again”.

The university announced its first revision of his sexual misconduct policies over the summer.

These changes include the replacement of the Institutional Equity Office with an Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office. It will be “conducted with an emphasis on care, support, education and prevention,” according to a presentation to the Board of Regents in July.

The university has also created a Department of Prevention, Educational Support and Resources within the new ECRT office. The university says that the department to bring “Comprehensive, high-quality prevention education and support for teachers and staff. “

Board of Regents

University of Michigan

The Board of Regents met on September 23 to announce additions to its sexual misconduct policy.

Elizabeth Abdnour is a Lansing-based lawyer who specializes in Title IX and civil rights.

Abdnour said the effects of the changes will take some time to see – at least a year. But she said the changes announced over the summer seemed more of a marketing and rebranding effort than a significant change.

“I haven’t seen anything in their new plan that really addresses what I think are the most important concerns,” she said.

Abdnour says she doesn’t see the changes correcting the fact that investigations are taking too long and investigators have too much work. She also said it adds another person for parties to follow during the process.

She said she didn’t understand why the school didn’t hire more investigators and that the university’s plan to hire “equity specialists” would only add confusion to the process.

“My experience is that when you add middlemen it doesn’t make it any easier. It makes things take longer, ”Abdnour said.

“What was I going to do about it?”

The new Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX office will be headed by Tamiko “Tami” Strickman, who was associate vice president of the university’s former institutional equity office. Strickman is named in two lawsuits during her time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she was Coordinated Title IXr from 2016 to 2019.

The US Department of Justice sent an expression of interest for the first trial. Abdnour represents the plaintiffs in both lawsuits.

Schlissel said Michigan Daily that the university thinks it will be cleared of any wrongdoing. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald added in an email to Michigan Radio: “We have complete confidence in Tamiko Strickman as head of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX bureau. “.

But the student at the beginning of this story says that Strickman’s case – and her own experience with Strickman’s office – further fuels her skepticism that the university can do better with survivors of sexual assault.

Her advice to survivors of sexual assault who want to get a resolution through college: Get a lawyer. “No one will tell you, but it’s true,” she said. “You shouldn’t do this without a lawyer because they felt totally comfortable fucking me all the time. Because what was I going to do about it? “

She says she believes all the delays, the lack of communication, were intentional.

” It was the goal. Everything they did was on purpose, to drive me crazy, to make me feel like it wasn’t worth it, to let me down.

Editor’s Note: The University of Michigan is licensed from Michigan Radio.

If you are a university student you can find this organization run by law students be useful for advice. It should be noted that they are reorganizing this semester.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or abused, here are some resources that can help: