Western Cracks Down on Sexual Harassment

In compliance with upcoming federal changes to Title IX, the university has implemented new policies regarding discrimination. Title IX discrimination refers to sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, gender identity, and failure to conform to stereotypical notions of femininity and masculinity. Legislation Today Title IX refers to a section of the federal Educations Amendments of 1972, which states (in part) that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Except for a renaming of the bill to Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002, the wording of Title IX has not changed since its creation. Title IX currently has normally been used in cases of gender equality in sports and other state-sanctioned activities. However, activity in Congress has begun to question whether Title IX can be expanded to regulate any cases of sexual misconduct are handled on college campuses. Upcoming Federal Mandates A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri would strengthen existing Title IX language to include all cases of sexual misconduct on campuses. Known as S.590 and H.R.1310, informally known as Campus Accountability and Safety Act, the legislation would: - Require schools to survey students about sexual misconduct, and publish those results - Mandate minimum levels of training for school staff - Prevent athletic departments from handling complaints about athletes - Create financial penalties for school non-compliance Though the legislation is gaining traction in Congress, the bill is not yet federal law. Despite this, the university has implemented multiple policy changes in response to McCaskill’s efforts. Specific Policy Changes First, the university has begun the hiring process for a Title IX Dean of Students Coordinator. “We are searching for a new Title IX Dean of Students Coordinator,” said Shana Meyer, vice president of student affairs. “It’s a nation-wide search and we’re really looking for someone to fill that spot and concentrate on our Title IX efforts.” Three candidates for the position will be on campus within the following two weeks. Second, Western employees are now mandatory reporters. If a student approaches a faculty or staff member regarding a case of sexual misconduct, the employee must report it to the Title IX coordinator. “With the exception of the counseling center, there is no confidentiality [in cases of Title IX discrimination],” said Edwin Taylor, assistant professor of political science. “So, if someone comes to us and says, “Hey, I need to talk to you about something that happened at this party off campus, but you’ve got to keep it private,” we have to start off with, “I have to report it.” Though the university must launch an investigation into reports of sexual misconduct, for the time being, students still maintain the final say as to whether charges are to be pressed. “The university has to investigate any cases, but if a student doesn’t want an investigation to continue, they maintain autonomy over that decision,” Executive Vice President of SGA Brad Stanton said. Third, students and staff are required to complete online Title IX training. Though Western staff and student employees have already received the information to complete the online course, students have not been given access to the course. However, once students receive the email information regarding the online training, it must be completed within 30 days.

Vandalism concerns students

Car graffiti on campus.
It was reported to university police on Saturday, Jan. 3, that multiple vehicles on campus had been vandalized with racist messages. An estimated five cars on campus, and an unknown number off campus, were painted with what the university is calling "hateful words and symbols," which consisted of swastikas and the letters "KKK." Risk Manager and Interim Police Chief Tim Kissock believes that the crime was not directed at any individuals or specific groups of people. "This appears to be just a random act of vandalism," Kissock said. On Monday, Jan. 5, Assistant Director of Public Relations and Marketing Kent Heier sent an email to the campus community which described the incident.  The email also informed the university that an investigation was underway, and offered anonymity to anyone who may have information about who the vandal(s) might be. Kissock explained that the investigation appears to be gaining success. "We have someone we are looking at," Kissock said. "However, our investigation is not finished at this time." Several members of the community have shown concern and disappointment over the way that Western has handled this situation. On Monday, Jan 12, sophomore Cory Stephens and Western alumnus Nicholas Brothers attended a Student Government Association meeting on campus in order to express their concerns. Both men believe that, due to the high number of minority students at Western, the incident should be treated as though it were a threat, and that something should be done by student leaders. "The public facing response was something of making out to be a joke, trying to downplay it," Stephens said. "I think that it has a lot to do with the university trying to get the public behind the Spratt renovations." "I just wanted [...] student leaders to make sure that the administration knows that students and alum do take it seriously." Brothers said. "We are unsafe by this." Several SGA leaders opened up a discussion about what should or could be done in order to improve the situation, but no official course of action was implemented. Western student and Beshears Hall resident Nicole Gardner's vehicle was vandalized.  Her car, like others, had a random phone number painted onto it,  as well as the word "hoodrats." Gardner claims she has no idea how the university is handling the investigation, but is very unhappy about the incident. "I personally found it very disrespectful," Gardner said. "Whether it was supposed to be a joke or not, it was rude and not appreciated." According to Western's safety report found on the university website, no hate crimes were reported for 2011, 2012 or 2013.  The report for 2014 has not yet been published.  

AIDS activist discusses importance of finding cure

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have been around for many years without a probable cure. HIV is a particular virus that weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight infection--T-cells and CD4 cells. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome occurs when your immune system becomes deficient. According to AIDS.gov, “AIDS is syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.” Brryan Jackson, AIDS activist and survivor, began his presentation on Dec. 1 with a list of HIV Fun (Not Really) Facts. In Jackson’s slideshow, it was stated that 35 million people are infected with the virus, and around 3.3 million of these patients are under the age of 15. The only way to know if a person has the virus is to take a 20 minute, painless HIV test. And although the virus is not airborne, some of the population do not even know that they have it. When most people think of a face for AIDS, they picture drug users, prostitutes, homosexual couples, etc. However, Jackson made it very clear that each and every human being could be considered a face of AIDS. There are no visible symptoms of AIDS. The destruction happens inside a person’s body, which is why people do not die from AIDS itself, but from related medical complications, including pneumonia. Jackson was admitted into the hospital when he was eleven months old for a series of asthma attacks. Just before being released from the hospital, he received a surprise visit from his father, who had never been a significant part of his life. Brryan’s mother, exhausted and thirsty, left the father alone with his son to get a drink. When she returned, she found her baby boy crying hysterically. Jackson’s father came to the hospital that day with a “grand plan.” He brought his lab coat along with him for the purpose of killing his son so that he could avoid paying child support. Brryan’s father injected him with HIV-tainted, incompatible blood before disappearing. Soon, Jackson became bloated and feverish. He was tested for numerous diseases, when finally, the doctors made the decision to test Jackson for HIV. The test came back positive, as Jackson’s T-cell count was at zero. Jackson’s family was told that he had five months to live. Yet he is now in his 20s, his virus is sustained, and he has been given a chance at life. Jackson spoke at Western to tell his story, but also to raise awareness for the incurable, yet preventable virus. Dana Heldenbrand, administrative coordinator for student development, said that Jackson’s story was brought to her attention by Mitzi Teliczan of the St. Joseph Health Department. The Center for Student Involvement was immediately interested in Jackson’s story, and thought that it would fit in well with the Standing in Your Truth series. Jackson told the audience about his childhood experiences. He was not allowed to go to school for a period of time due to being HIV positive. Once Jackson was able to attend public school, he was assigned a specific bathroom and was unable to use the water fountains, participate in after school activities, or play sports. Jackson said that he was “treated like a monster,” yet he realized that sharing his story with the world was more joyful than anything else he could have done. Throughout the presentation, Jackson focused on how he did not want to be treated as a victim. What he wanted do was find a solution to his problem and figure out how to overcome it. “I wish I could take away everyone’s pain,” Jackson said. “But where there’s pain, there’s gonna be gain.” In Dec. 1998, Jackson’s father was convicted of first-degree assault and was given life in prison with possibility of parole. Jackson stated that although he has not seen his father since that day in the hospital, and has no intentions of doing so, he chose to forgive him. “I’m not going to let what he’s done define me,” Jackson said. Heldenbrand said that Jackson did a wonderful job with his presentation. She also said that his story was "powerful.” When asked how Jackson was chosen for the presentation, Heldenbrand had a strong answer. “Who better than someone who has really embraced his past and is standing in his truth?” she said. Even though Jackson’s HIV is currently undetectable, an audience member asked if he expected to come across any limitations in his life. “I think I’m limitless,” Jackson said.

Student charged with counterfeiting released on bail

BURGESSCODI-131x200

BURGESSCODI-131x200     Missouri Western student Codi Burgess of St. Louis, Mo., was released on bail Friday, Oct. 24 from the Buchanan County jail.

     Burgess was arrested on campus Wednesday, Oct. 22 in connection to counterfeit $20 bills that were circulating in St. Joseph. A freshman at Western,                  Burgess was charged with a class A misdemeanor and has entered a not guilty plea.

     Burgess's court hearing is Thursday, Nov. 13 at the Buchannan County Court House.

Alleged sexual assault on campus

Less than a week before Sen. Claire McCaskill came  in order to speak out against sexual assault on college campuses, a student reported a sexual assault here at Missouri Western.  On wednesday, Oct. 1 at around 11:30 p.m., campus security was called to Vaselakos Hall regarding an alleged sexual assault that took place the day before. According to the narrative of responding Officer Hassan McGaughy the investigation is still continuing. "On 10/1/14 I, Officer McGaughy responded to Vaselakos Hall [room number redacted] in reference to a sexual assault that occurred on 9/30/14. Upon arrival, Housing was notified and responded.  Investigation to continue," the report said. The report also identified the reported crime as "sexual assault 1st degree," which involves  sexual intercourse with another person knowing that he or she does so without that person's consent and is a class C felony. University President Robert Vartabedian believes that it is important to protect the victim's rights and respect her wishes at this point in time. "We're in a bind in terms of protecting her rights and her wishes not to have it pursued," Vartabedian said.  "We're watching it very closely." On May 1 of this year a female student reported being assaulted a few days earlier on April 28. According to the campus safety report, there were two forcible sex crimes in both 2011 and 2012, but none last year.