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Increase in reports of sexual misconduct at USU, but administrators say they're grateful students are coming forward

Posted at 7:09 PM, Feb 13, 2020

The Utah State University’s Title IX office said they’ve seen an increase in sexual misconduct reports made to their office in the last few years—and that it’s a good thing.

“We really see trust in our office increasing and people feeling comfortable providing the information to us,” said Hilary Renshaw, the Title IX Coordinator for USU’s Office of Equity.

Renshaw is part of a series of changes that have come to the university over the past three years after students came forward with claims of rape and sexual assault from a star football player or from people at the university’s Halloween party.

“The word that keeps popping in my mind was a wake-up call,” said Noelle Cockett, USU’s first female president.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) used the word “failure” after completing a three-year review of USU’s Title IX compliance.

Yet, the review also notes the university has been “proactive,” and taking “steps to strengthen its prevention of and response to sexual harassment and assault.”

Cockett said the review was conducted for the years 2013 to 2017 and that the findings corresponded with the internal investigation USU conducted in 2017.

In response, Cockett said they have tripled the staff size for their Title IX Office of Equity.

“To improve timeliness, to improve the types of student responses that we can give and also to improve education training,” said Cockett.

As Title IX Coordinator, Renshaw said they’ve expanded their messaging and resources put out for students to use—and they’re seeing results from students, more reports.

The reports usually come from a third party, said Renshaw, and the university tries to respond within 24 hours through email.

“It has information about supportive measures on and off-campus, and then about reporting options about the investigation,” said Renshaw.

Within a couple of days, Title IX will do a follow-up phone call and if they don’t hear back for a few days afterward, Renshaw said they will reach out again to see if the student still wants assistance.

“We always hope that individuals will engage with our office, but again we want to empower them with when and how they choose to do that,” said Renshaw.

A few of the many changes in the last three years, they hope will help students use the words “protected” and “safe” when they think about USU.

“It’s not just about investigating sexual assault,” said Cockett. “It’s about providing the support measures that people need.”