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Seven Years After Investigation, No Sex Discrimination Training at Northern Student Orientation

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Administrators at Northern New Mexico College say not enough is being done to make sure those at Northern — especially students — know exactly what Title IX is and what their rights are.

Students, staff and faculty at Northern have access to a Title IX coordinator, who handles all complaints related to sex-based and other forms of discrimination at the College.

They also have an entire Title IX policy on the website, detailing the process by which someone can file a complaint.

However, the College currently does not have any formal training for Title IX that students are required to attend.

Originally passed in 1972, Title IX protects people from sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in organizations that receive funds from the federal government.

This includes most colleges and universities, such as Northern.

One of the main requirements of Title IX is for the institution to have a designated Title IX coordinator, who is in charge of handling and investigating all complaints filed at the College.

They also help in managing outcomes of complaints, while also identifying any patterns or behaviors that could also be in violation.

Frank Orona is currently interim Title IX coordinator, while also serving as director of admissions, and for the past two years has served as interim dean of students.

Orona’s arrival at Northern in 2011 coincided with the opening of an investigation into the College regarding allegations of multiple Title IX violations by the Office of Civil Rights, a sub-agency of the Department of Education that works to prevent discrimination in schools.

These allegations included Northern failing to provide resolutions to two Title IX complaints lodged by students and threatening to fail one student in their chemistry course when they filed a complaint.

Other allegations were that the College had no Title IX coordinator, nor were its grievance procedures made available to the public. Northern denied these allegations in an official response letter.

At the end of its investigation, the Office found the College did have a coordinator, but gave Northern 13 steps it needed to meet in order to be compliant with Title IX.

One step required Northern to hold informational sessions about Title IX policy and procedures for students during their New Student Orientations. The Office said in 2013 that the College had met this requirement.

Director of Advisement Lisa Wilson oversees Northern’s two student orientations every year, and said there is not time to include all the information related to Title IX. Northern’s website has their next student orientation scheduled for four hours.

Wilson said all they usually tell students during orientation is that Orona is the coordinator.

“They would know (Orona is) the one you go to for Title IX,” she said. “And any kind of sexual harassment issue, they would hopefully know that would also go to that person.”

She said the College’s Title IX policy is in the Student Handbook and School Catalog, and that students during orientation are directed to both documents on the website.

Both documents, though, state who the coordinator is, but never address any specific policies or procedures students can follow when filing a complaint.

Wilson also suggested that informing students where to go to file a complaint is more effective than explaining Title IX procedure to them.

“There’s an issue about overload,” she said. “When you give people a lot of information in the front end, they don’t always retain it all. When the issue comes up and you at least know where to go and who to talk to, we have found (that) more useful. (Students will) feel really good that they can ask anybody on campus where they would go for an issue like that.”

As far as how students are informed on Title IX, Orona said he often visits classrooms at the request of an instructor and gives a presentation, but he does not reach every student.

He also said the College’s Title IX policy and procedures are on the website — which is not always an effective method.

“If something happens to you, you’re not thinking about going to the website,” he said.

Faculty and staff at Northern do take mandatory Title IX training. While student employees are supposed to take the training, Orona said not all of them have and that the requirement is difficult to enforce.

He said he would like to have every student to take online training for making and handling Title IX complaints, a system many other colleges have, but said he was told the College did not have the budget for it — he called that reasoning “a poor excuse.”

“There’s still a large segment of our population that’s not receiving this training,” Orona said.

As part of Title IX’s requirements, colleges must inform their students about Title IX policy, procedures and where they can the appropriate resources.

Exactly how administrators should disseminate that information is a legal gray area, but Orona said Northern is not being compliant with Title IX in terms of training and informing students.

“We need to do more to be compliant,” he said.

Colleges not in compliance with Title IX have a lot to lose.

They run the risk of losing all of the federal financial aid they receive through Title IV funding, including Pell Grants, although this has yet to happen at any higher education institution in the country.

Title IV inspectors periodically inspect Northern to make sure they are being federally compliant. They have yet to raise Title IX as an issue, Orona said.

Orona said he believes the College has the capability to become completely compliant with Title IX.

“We just need to be consistent with it as an institution, part of that consistency is providing training for students, faculty and staff and part of that consistency is making sure every person who steps foot on this campus understands what Title IX means and how to report it,” he said.

Bailey said in a phone interview that informing students about Title IX policy and procedures is one area the College can improve upon.

Many schools have a Title IX coordinator whose sole duties are to perform the functions of that particular job.

Some schools, such as the University of New Mexico, have entire offices dedicated to Title IX and discrimination complaints, with several investigators working on multiple cases.

Northern’s system for Title IX is different, though.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Ricky Bejarano said Northern does not have a designated Title IX coordinator due to a limited budget.

Orona became interim coordinator after his predecessor, former Director of Human Resources Donna Castro, was fired in June. He has worked at Northern since 2011, and said Title IX has been an area many at the College have been hesitant to take on.

“People are afraid of Title IX, I don’t know why,” he said. “Even Donna didn’t want the position when we gave it to her.”

While Castro served as Director of Human Resources for over a year, Northern President Rick Bailey said she was only the coordinator for around three to four months.

Prior to Castro, Orona served as coordinator after former Director of Human Resources Bernie Padilla resigned in 2015. Orona said Padilla was more interested in training faculty and staff than students.

Padilla could not be reached for comment before publication.

When Castro was fired, emails between Bailey and Orona show that the position of Title IX coordinator remained unfilled for nearly a week afterward, until Orona volunteered to fill the role.

And while many pages on Northern’s website make mention of a Title IX coordinator, they are often inconsistent in who that person actually is.

For example, the College’s official Title IX policy — adopted in 2012 after the Office completed their investigation — states the director of human resources is the Title IX coordinator.

However, in the seven years since the policy was adopted, the human resources director has only served in the position for a little more than half that time. The website said no revisions to the policies have been made since 2012.

Also, while Northern’s Catalog lists Orona as the coordinator, the Student Handbook still has Castro in the position. None of the College’s web pages about their Title IX policy mention Orona.

The College is currently hiring for a new position called assistant provost for student affairs. The position will eliminate the dean of student services and include Title IX coordinator in its duties, according to a job description posted on the website.

Orona said he applied for the position.

It is unclear how many Title IX complaints were investigated by the College in recent years.

Orona said he could only remember two reports since he started at Northern, and none since the Office completed their investigation in 2012. He said the low number of reports could be due to the lack of knowledge Northern students have about Title IX and filing a complaint.

“They may not even know — this is faculty and staff included — they may not even know what sexual harassment entails as far as it’s defined by Title IX,” he said.

In response to a records request for all of Northern’s Title IX reports for the past 10 years, the College stated it needed nearly another month to complete the request, because it was overly burdensome.

The College received the request on June 18. M. Karen Kilgore, an attorney from Cuddy & McCarthy representing the College, responded on July 3.

However, in a later phone call and email, Kilgore said the reasoning was actually because many of the documents specific to the request were neither compiled nor scanned electronically.

“These documents are not in an electronic form and may or may not be completely compiled at this point,” she wrote.

The last paragraph of Northern’s Title IX policy states the Title IX coordinator must maintain and control all investigative documents related to any investigations they conduct.

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