USF conference offers national voices for Title IX, draws attendees from across the region

Best practices for handling Title IX cases, preventing gender and sex-based discrimination, and providing a fair and supportive environment for university faculty, staff and students were some of many topics discussed at the Second annual Title IX conference held at USF Sept. 8 and 9.

Called Emerging Equality: Aligning Best Practices and Institutional Integrity, the two-day conference featured nationally recognized speakers, who offered current information and trends in managing organizations offering Title IX, the federal law protecting Americans from sexual violence, sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

The two day Title IX conference was held in the Marshall Ctr on the USF Campus

The two day Title IX conference was held in the Marshall Center on the USF Campus.

This was the second conference hosted by USF to help bring a greater awareness for issues surrounding Title IX protections, said Crystal Coombes, senior deputy Title IX coordinator for the USF System.

“To date, at least in Florida, USF is the only university offering such a comprehensive conference that not only addresses the compliance requirements to provide ongoing training, prevention, and awareness of the offerings under Title IX and Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), but also creates a dialogue to stimulate cultural shift within the campus community regarding sexual harassment, including sexual violence,” Coombes said.

“This conference welcomed the university community – and this year the region, with attendees from 11 different state university institutions and private universities – during the first term of the academic year to develop and increase competencies related to Title IX, VAWA, and the Clery Act. The conference highlighted emerging trends and research, which challenged attendees to review and address their own key processes related to sexual misconduct/sexual harassment. Our goal is to effectively change the campus culture, creating a more inclusive and safer campus.”

Crystal Coombes, senior deputy Title IX coordinator for the USF System.

Educational offerings included presentations of current research, review of best practices, hands-on experiential workshops, and presentations from national experts in the field regarding emerging trends that may impact the campus community and/or the university’s response to Title IX. The conference provided a full day of offerings specifically for faculty/staff and students as well as the general Title IX community of stakeholders, and acts to kick off the academic year’s USF System Title IX initiatives.

One such speaker was Saundra K. Schuster, a partner with the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM), a national risk management legal consulting firm. Schuster presented several sessions across the two-day conference.

“It’s important to keep the message alive on the critical issues of investigations, the law, and policy audits and development,” Schuster said. “A conference like this one helps continue the dialogue. It’s critical that we help people understand the scope of issues and roles involved and to create a culture of reporting.”

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National expert Saundra K. Schuster presents at the USF Title IX Conference.

USF’s Title IX section of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity (DIEO) places an emphasis on strategic outreach to the university community by ongoing face-to-face “Responsible Employee” training (with more than 7,000 trained to date) and through work, training, and dialogue with many student organizations.

“The success of this conference is clearly in the partnerships between USF System offices and colleges, as well as the addition of key institutional sponsors from our region,” Coombes said. “The USF System has become a recognized leader in Title IX strategic efforts in Florida. Our ongoing mission is to continue to create change on campus through education and prevention.”

An example of that education can be seen through the deputy coordinators for USF Title IX efforts – each campus and major area for USF has a representative, someone every faculty, staff and student has access to as a resource for Title IX issues.

“We all have open doors,” said Kristin Steffen, MPH, CPH, assistant director for Health Law, Policy and Safety and the deputy Title IX coordinator for USF Health.

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“We can answer questions and are available as advisors and resources. The aim is offer protections when there is harassment and abuse and to, ultimately, prevent them from happening at all. To help do that, we offer educational and training components, which makes us all more aware of our rights.”

The USF Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity manages the Title IX effort, which includes deputy coordinators across the USF System.

Your main USF contacts for Title IX issues, questions, concerns are the following deputy coordinators:

USF Tampa: Lorna Dwyer, (813) 974-3970; ldwyer@usf.edu

USF Health: Kristin Steffen, (813) 974-9820; ksteffen@health.usf.edu

USF World: Ben Chamberlain, (813) 974-4314; bchamberlain@usf.edu

USF St. Petersburg: Jacob Diaz, (727) 873-4826; jacobdiaz@mail.usf.edu

USF Sarasota/Manatee: Allison Dinsmore, (941) 359-4714; adinsmore1@sar.usf.edu

In addition, USF Title IX contacts include:

Title IX Coordinator: Dr. Jose Hernandez, Chief Diversity Officer, (813) 974-0537; jehernan@usf.edu

Senior Deputy Title IX Coordinator: Crystal C. Coombes, (813) 974-5392; cccoombes@usf.edu

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.