Let’s time travel.
It’s 2014. President Obama has just called on the United States as a whole to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The It’s On Us campaign ignites conversation on quads and in administrative buildings across the country about a problem previously hidden behind dorm room doors.
At the University of Maryland, a new office emerges to provide resources for vulnerable students. The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, under the direction of this university’s first ever Title IX compliance officer Catherine Carroll, provided a separate space for victims to get answers and justice. At the time, university President Wallace Loh told The Diamondback “We cannot lump together complaints about drunken student behavior with sexual harassment, but that’s what we’ve been doing.” It seemed like a move in the right direction.
Fast forward a year. The office employs two investigators to look into cases of civil rights violations and sexual misconduct for a university community of 60,000. At the time, this editorial board called on this university to do more to help Carroll and her office, which was underfunded and understaffed.
In 2016, not much has changed. The office employs four investigators, not including Carroll, to handle Title IX and civil rights-related incidents. They have operated on an incomplete budget for the past two and a half years, while dealing with an increasing number of reports, complaints and investigations. Without the funds and personnel to process incidents, investigations drag on for upward of 120 days, twice the length of time this university requires.
Keep in mind, Title IX requires any institution receiving federal funds to respond to reports promptly and effectively.
This semester, the Student Government Association is calling on students to assuage the dire situation this university has created for the office. A proposal submitted by A.J. Pruitt, SGA student affairs vice president, asks undergraduate and graduate students to pay an additional $34 yearly on top of the current $933 in student fees. In a guest column published in The Diamondback, Pruitt called on students to have “the courage to step up and take leadership on the prevention of sexual misconduct and other forms of unlawful discrimination occurring on our campus.”
The SGA’s effort is noble and perhaps even necessary. It should not have to be.
It is outrageous and reprehensible that at Maryland’s flagship institution, funding the only university defense against sexual violence and civil rights violations comes down to the students who themselves face these injustices.
There is no mention of the office in any of the university operating budgets since fiscal 2014. Catherine Carroll’s position is listed only in fiscal 2015’s budget, and under the Office of Academic Affairs. The office is currently housed under academic affairs, but is not yet a discrete entity, according to this university’s administration and finance division. Its operating budget, $725,000 for fiscal 2016, was cobbled together out of soft money donations and grants, Carroll indicated in an interview with The Diamondback.
This editorial board is tired. Tired of writing editorials calling for the same change and tired of hearing no response. This editorial board knows it is on us to combat sexual assault and civil rights violations with our courage, our education and our respect. But it is not our job to pay for resources the federal government has already decided are our right.