In January 2019, Penn proposed a policy that would centralize sexual misconduct investigations into one office under a new administrative position, the Associate Vice President of Equity and Title IX Officer. On Nov. 11, the University appointed Michele Rovinsky-Mayer as the first AVP of Equity and Title IX Officer.
Before coming to Penn, Rovinsky-Mayer worked in the Office of Equality and Diversity at Drexel University as the Title IX Coordinator for 11 years. Now, she hopes to educate the Penn community about the new Sexual Misconduct Policy and how they can respond to these incidents.
According to Rovinsky-Mayer, the policy was implemented on July 1 and consolidates four policies about sexual harassment, consensual relationships, violence and stalking, and retaliation. The Title IX office will now be the contact for all complaints against Penn faculty, staff, and students alleging Sexual Misconduct Policy violations. In the past, graduate student misconduct claims were handled by deans of the accuser’s school.
“It was created to make sure that all investigations have a consistent framework, but have that rigor to the investigative process so that people can trust in the process,” Rovinsky-Mayer said.
Rovinsky-Mayer said she hopes to inform students, staff, and faculty on what steps to take if there is an incident of sexual misconduct. She has spoken to groups such as Student Intervention Services, Penn Violence Prevention, and leadership of the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils.
In October, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced the results of a survey on sexual assault from the Association of American Universities. According to the survey, in 2019, 25.9% of undergraduate women and 7.3% of undergraduate men on Penn’s campus reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact since entering college.
Rovinsky-Mayer said she has spent time looking at the survey and investigating how the Title IX office can be more responsive to individuals who may want to report sexual misconduct but are scared to do so.
“One of the main goals will be to increase reporting so that individuals can get the resources and support that they need,” Rovinsky-Mayer said. “In order to do that, I want to make sure that people understand the process and that we’re as transparent as possible about the process so that they’re less fearful of coming forward.”
When an individual comes forward with a complaint, the University's Title IX office will determine under which of the four policies it falls, Rovinsky-Mayer said. The office will then help the individual understand what to expect when reporting and offer support throughout the process.
Deborah Harley, who is the Investigative Officer for the Title IX office, investigates complaints of sexual violence, sexual harassment, relationship violence, and stalking made against faculty, students, and staff. She said she is optimistic about the future of sexual misconduct reporting at Penn with the creation of Rovinsky-Mayer’s new position.
“It shows how Penn has made this a priority here,” Harley said. “I think that we’re really lucky to have Michele as the AVP and Title IX Officer. She has a lot of experience and seems very dedicated to the position.”
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