By Destiny Liddle, Jessica Miller and Serena Tartaglia
FORT MYERS — The office of Florida SouthWestern’s Title IX Coordinator is neatly tucked into a quiet corner of the top level of the Student Services Hall. A calming Himalayan salt lamp sits upon the desk, and the room is filled with soothing scents. An assortment of ‘Thank You’ cards are pinned up on a bulletin board from grateful students and professors alike.
And at center of it all is Jana Sabo, seated at her desk, with a smiling face and warm, welcoming eyes.
“I try to keep it as friendly, quiet and welcoming as possible,” said Sabo.
This safe place might be exactly what a struggling student or faculty member needs, especially when they’re approaching Title IX services with sexual harassment or domestic violence issues.
Sabo has held the Title IX Coordinator position for past three years and has been working actively to make FSW’s campuses feel safer for students and faculty. Our investigation suggests that FSW fields more complaints and has more data available than other state colleges.
During the time period of August 2015 to January 2016, FSW received 15 reports of sexual harassment complaints– 4 resulted in formal investigations. From August 2016 to January 2017 there were 37 reports, and 7 formal investigations. Finally, from August 2017 to January 2018, there were a total of 44 reports, and 10 formal investigations. Public records requests to the 27 other state colleges showed that none had logged more than 17 complaints between August 2015 and January 2016, 17 complaints between August 2016 and January 2017, and 20 complaints between August 2017 and January 2018.
Valencia College reported 13 complaints in the 2015-2016 period, 17 in
2016-2017 period, and 20 in the 2017-2018 period. Santa Fe College and
Florida State College at Jacksonville both responded with partial data.
Jacksonville included data solely for the 2015-2016 period, and Santa Fe included data only for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 periods. Twenty-two schools did not respond to the public records request with any data, and two schools had between zero and two complaints during all three time periods that were requested.
“What that says to me, is that either their process is viewed as adversarial,
or people aren’t aware of how to report.” said Sabo, in reference to why certain Title IX numbers are so low. “Maybe their policy or procedure is so complicated that students don’t want to go through with reporting an incident.”
This story began with the expectation that Title IX and sexual harassment
complaints would increase after the Harvey Weinstein scandal spawned the #MeToo movement in October 2017.
We called and requested phone interviews, sent out emails, public records
requests, and follow-up emails, but received a low number of responses.
At FSW, Sabo has upped the ante with her Title IX advertisements and posters that she’s placed all around campus, from notices on campus TV
screens to stickers with her contact information on bathroom mirrors.
She’s also worked to implement a new Title IX training course on Canvas
that will further inform students and staff about the services FSW provides, how to make use of them, and how they can prevent and/or diffuse
situations as a bystander.
“All of us at FSW work very hard on our policy development, and look at what we have to do, what we should do, and how we can make it as easy
and as friendly has possible,” Sabo said.
Sabo and many others that work with FSW’s Student Services department provide the students with various opportunities to learn about Title IX services and ways that they can get involved, which include workshops that
sometimes occur over a dozen times a semester. These workshops cover topics such as how students can intervene in a conflict as a bystander. These events are strongly marketed toward first year students; however, they are open for anyone to attend.
“Florida SouthWestern approaches bystander intervention not just from the lens of Title IX, but also just being a good person,” Sabo said.
Sabo also mentioned that she keeps a loose record of every single complaint she receives, not just those that evolve into formal investigations, something that does not appear to be done by any other Florida state college Title IX coordinators or equity officers.
Students may also see Title IX related material show up in their lessons, such as in one of FSW’s Intro to Human Sexuality classes, taught by Terri Housley.
Sabo tries to implement learning opportunities all over campus, which may be a reason why FSW students feel more comfortable reporting these incidents.
“I feel that we try to look at things from a holistic approach, I work with adaptive services, the victim advocate. I work very close with professors, with all the school deans, with our dean of students, with our advisors.” said Sabo.
During the time we spent researching Title IX, we also grazed the surface of
Clery Act Reports, which is “is a federal statute requiring colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information,” according to the Federal Student Aid website.
Clery Act Reports include many different crime statistics that occur on college campuses, including physical assault, burglary, public intoxication, and drug use. However, Clery Act Reports are not required to include reporting on sexual harassment.
According to Sabo, “To classify sexual harassment allegations as equivalent to the violent acts that brought about the Cleary Act would be a little bit of a stretch.”
Sabo works with Human Resources and under the administrative services umbrella, but very little of her work is with the FSW faculty or staff. Her goal is to provide a safe place for students to bring their complaints, and a welcoming network of resources to help them with issues regarding dating violence to discomfort in the classroom.
“I’m trying have their experience be as good as it can be, both for the victims as well as the offender,” said Sabo. “We want to provide equal support on both sides, which can be difficult to balance.”
Earlier in her career, Sabo performed background checks for a police department. These skills help her carry out Title IX investigations, she said.
Sabo has worked with local abuse-counseling and treatment centers to try to find alternative housing for victims living in hostile environments. She’s also worked with FSW’s IT department to provide mobile hotspots for those who may not have internet because of serious domestic issues at home.
“Our support will continue for as long as the victim needs us,” said
Sabo. “My goal is to get them to where they don’t need me anymore, not be-
cause I don’t want to see them anymore, but my job is to empower them and build them back up.”