By Mac Pomeroy
April is Sexual Harassment Awareness Month, and YSU is taking the steps to inform students on how to be safe and what to do if something happens. The halls of Kilcawley Center are filled with signs and shirts promoting safe action. However, along with displaying these signs, we need to actually address what harassment is and what students on campus can do.
I hear it all the time from my peers that they do not believe the school will take action toward helping fix the problem. All the signs in the world do not really state whether someone is willing to back up their claims. In order to tell how seriously the campus really takes these allegations, I decided to talk to the people behind the signs.
Many of us have received an email update from the Title IX director Kelly Beers. These emails are usually sent to inform students about any changes to policy or special awareness events going on. As it turns out, Beers is an actual person behind the screen who also cares about her job and helping others.
I met her in her office on the third floor of Tod Hall. Immediately, it is very clear that Beers knows her job and is enthusiastic to help. Beers tells me that she has been working in her position as the Title IX director at YSU for one year, however she worked in student conduct for two years prior.
Beers explained some of her roles as the Title IX director. “This is my first year as the Title IX director, so that means not only conducting the investigations, but also coordinating accommodations and the such,” Beers said.
Beers explained that harassment issues are vastly underreported. YSU data shows that approximately 63% of students have experienced some form of sexual assault, either before or during their time as a YSU student. Beers feels that many people are afraid to report it because they think they are overreacting.
This isn’t usually the case. Even if students are unsure, Beers still encourages that they report what happened if it made them uncomfortable. According to YSU policy, sexual harassment is “any intentional, nonconsensual, sexual contact with another person.”
This can include not just sexual actions, but also comments and gestures. Each of these are taken seriously by the Title IX office and will be properly sorted out. YSU takes the health and safety of its students very seriously.
When asked if there was anything she would like the students to know, Beers replied that she wanted them to know that colleges and universities take this kind of issue very seriously. While many K-12 schools do not take the proper action and responsibility, YSU and many other universities handle Title IX and harassment appropriately.
Unfortunately, the fact that many K-12 schools do not properly handle these cases makes students think that their issues will never be heard. Over 33% of the incoming freshman class has reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment. While the exact information and statistics is unavailable, many of these situations were not handled.
Beers also explained that the school has a nondiscrimination policy towards students who are reporting it. Regardless of age, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, anything. YSU will take their case seriously. They will be heard.
Of course, not all harassment is sexual. There is also general harassment. This involves non-Title IX harassment. To get a better idea on this side of things, I headed down to the YSU Campus Police station to talk to Detective Doug Pusateri. Pusateri has been working with the campus police since 1996. He has seen many cases of harassment in his time and estimates that the campus gets about 50 reports of harassment a year, 10 of which are criminal-level harassment.
Pusateri defined harassment as repeated unwanted contact, especially after the “reportee” has stated that they do not wish to be contacted. According to the detective, this has gotten more frequent through the use of social media.
“People use their phones to harass others because they would never do it face to face, and social media allows them to dehumanize the other person and not think about the consequences of their actions,” Pusateri said.
Of course, the mask of a screen makes people think they will not be caught. Whether online or in person, though, harassment is still harassment. It must be reported, and it will be taken seriously. Social media does not change harmful behavior.
When faced with this situation, Pusateri says to do the following. First, tell the suspect to stop contacting you. If this is online, be sure to document it. Do not respond to the suspect after telling them to stop. If the suspect continues to contact you, report any further contact to the authorities.
When asked what he would like the students to know, Pusateri replied that he wants students to know that they need to report these situations. Whether to the police or to another source, always make sure to report any incidents of harassment. Even if you do not plan to take any action yourself, getting the harassment on record in case something happens again is best.
As long as a harassment case is reported within two years, the legal system may handle it. Fortunately, not all harassment cases reach a legal level. Some of them go instead to the Student Conduct Office, to director Erin Hungerman.
While this is Hungerman’s first semester as YSU’s student conduct director, she worked at other universities in similar positions for over nine years. She reported that there have been no sexual harassment cases so far this semester, and she has seen only three or four harassment cases so far during her time here.
Being a more commuter-based university, fewer incidents tend to occur at YSU. No matter where an incident is reported on campus — Title IX, the police department, Student Conduct, or elsewhere — if the case is serious, it will reach back to her.
However, this doesn’t mean a student does not have choices. Even when one reports a situation, they still have the choice to pursue it or not. If a student chooses to pursue an incident, then the suspect will be informed of this. Often, a mutual no-contact order is issued.
From there, it will all depend. Hungerman, acting as the student conduct director, will arrange a meeting with the suspect. At the meeting, the suspect can either confirm and accept the claims, which will bring forth an immediate discussion of disciplinary action, or they can deny the claims.
If the suspect denies the claims, then a hearing will be arranged. A hearing is like a small trial where a suspect can plead their case. However, even if a hearing is arranged, the reportee will not be required to attend. They may either opt out of it or arrange to not be in the same room as the suspect.
Disciplinary action varies from case to case, typically a no-contact order, but also probation, suspension, or even expulsion. In the meantime, the university will work to make accommodations to allow the student to attend classes without any interruptions, and as painlessly as possible.
When asked what she would like the students to know, Hungerman gave a similar reply to Pusateri. She not only emphasized needing to report, she also emphasized making sure that students know that there are many resources on campus.
All across campus, there are people who want to help. There are people like Detective Pusateri in the police station, or Kelly Beers in Title IX and Erin Hungerman in the Student Conduct Office. If a student finds the idea of one option frightening, there are always other options. Even if they are not sure, they can talk to someone. There is no penalty for being unsure if an action is harassment or not.
Going around campus, it wasn’t hard to find the people beyond the signs. YSU is not just hanging a bunch of fliers and hoping that gets the job done. They have actual hardworking individuals striving to keep the campus safe. It isn’t some cold court process, but actual humans who care about what they do.
If you or anyone you know experiences any form of harassment on campus, please either contact the campus police at 3527, the Title IX office at 4629, or one of the many other great services.
You are not alone. Harassment is a terrible thing, and while it would be great if it never happened, until then we need to be prepared.
Stay safe and stay informed. Spread awareness this Sexual Harassment Awareness Month.