Norwich expands effort on sex issues

Matthew Roche, new Title IX Coordinator. Photo by Andrew Thomas

The number of reported sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault cases tied to the Norwich University campus have skyrocketed in the 2018/2019 year – and according to new Title IX (Nine) Coordinator Matthew Roche, this is actually a good thing.

“In the past reporting has not been great here. Whether it was a mistrust of students or whatever it was, but there weren’t many reports filed. This year we have skyrocketed in numbers,” Roche said, noting that might have a downside. “My one fear is that people are going to be highly alarmed because numbers are going to seem really high,” said Roche.

The tally for this academic year won’t be publicly available until October, said Roche, in a document known as the Clery Report. But he plans to release an annual report that will be available for everyone to view at the end of the academic year.

“This will tell us how many complaints, corps/civilian, academic year, type of incident, location of incident, type of resolution process utilized, and other pertinent information,” he said. Figures for 2017-18 are available online (http://www.norwich.edu/public-safety/).

Roche said that while the numbers are high compared to previous years, he feels it is because of the growing awareness and comfort students are taking in knowing that there are resources for them to reach out to.

“Most people when they see it, are going to look at the numbers and be like, wow, that’s scary. We on the back end are, like, this is good. Students are feeling comfortable enough to come forward. They are trusting that the university is going to respond and get a resolution out of it. So we are very happy with where we are,” Roche said.

According to Roche, Title IX is a key anti-discrimination civil rights law but it is just one piece of what his job encompasses on campus as Norwich’s new director of diversity, equity, and inclusion. He also oversees issues regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and dating violence. Roche’s office is housed on the 2nd floor of the Wise Campus Center ( mroche@norwich.eduor phone, (802) 485-2144.)

“Title IX is a civil rights law that was passed in 1972, which essentially prohibits sex discrimination in educational settings. We have to guarantee access to all of our programs, educational opportunities, and activities on campus no matter sex, sexual orientation, or gender,” Roche said.

Title IX is accompanied by various other federal acts to help cover diverse situations and ensure students safety and well being on campus.

“In a higher education institution. Title IX is expanded greatly because there is a bunch of other legislation that exists such as the Violence against Women Act, the Campus Save Act, and the Clery Act, which encompass broader requirements. So Title IX handles a lot of the discrimination, we add sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and dating violence through those other pieces of legislation,” Roche explained.

Roche said that the most prominent of the five categories he handles on the Norwich University campus would be dealing with sex offenses of different kinds, where the majority of victims are women.

“There’s two, the top would probably be sexual harassment and second I would say what we would term non-consensual sexual touching,” he said.

Title IX was discussed during President Richard Schneider’s passionate speech on Jan. 29 to discuss the university’s revamped focus on “ promoting a culture of respect that values the broad spectrum of skills and perspectives of all members of the Norwich University community.”

“The talk was supposed to be about diversity and the new initiatives that we are leading forward. I would say his demeanor was really to show that he cared,” said Roche. “This office is expanding. Now we are the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Title IX, so that was really what the talk was about,” Roche said.

To get students and faculty not only aware, but on board with all of the changes happening is an important part of the process, according to Roche.

“The first step in campus climate was addressing Title IX on campus and how it used to be handled versus where we are now,” Roche said.

Students appear eager to see more discussion on campus culture. Mary Beth Davis, a 21-year old English major from Shelby, N.C., explained that she is unsure if sexual assault/harassment is more prevalent here or if the culture surrounding it is just not taken seriously. The traditional military culture in the Corps of Cadets may be a factor in how Norwich perceives such issues.

“I believe sometimes the culture on campus surrounding sexual assault can be strained. I definitely believe it is more strained in the Corps of Cadets because a military lifestyle invokes a sense of inclusion and bonding that instills the idea of togetherness. So when someone talks about another person being assaulted by another corps member, many choose to not believe or even disregard the incident,” Davis said.

Roche added that Norwich University’s predominantly male campus has also had its share of reports of men being assaulted. He noted that anyone can become a victim of sexual assault, discrimination, or harassment, however, men are less likely to report these incidents.

“Traditionally, just like the rest of the country, most of our reports are man on woman. We have also had woman on man this year. So, we have seen it all, but the majority are generally what you’re stereotyping, that you see in the news of man on woman,” Roche said.

While Davis said she felt women generally feel included and safe on the Norwich University campus, there are still moments when women experience gender discrimination in their daily lives.

“As a woman, there are days where I feel included and equal to every single person on campus. But there are some days where I feel like there is such a large gap between men and women. I feel like this gap is more prevalent in the Corps of Cadets, because there is a perceived idea of masculinity that is overwhelming. Many men struggle taking orders from women and those same men have a problem with women being in power,” Davis said.

Kanisha Gonzalez, a 21-year old communications major from Camden, N.J., said that you have to take each person as an individual, noting that not everyone participates in gender discrimination but it still happens on campus.

“As a female, here there are some people that will treat you completely equal and some that will dismiss you completely. It all depends on the person, how they were raised, and their values,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez put her view this way: If you shove a mess under your bed, it may look clean initially however there is still a mess. It is just hidden from sight. She said an important part of understanding old values and creating new ones is to accept it, deal with it, and not hide it.

As the title IX coordinator, Roche is the go-to-guy when students need to report an incident. According to Roche, students will be given a number of resources as they figure out a resolution that will be tailored to their specific needs and how they want to deal with it.

“Each case is different. They can go anywhere (to report) but it is likely going to end up here anyway,” Roche said. “When students meet with me they have options. We go over resources that this office can provide, academic and housing accommodations, and we can do inter-measures such as no contact orders,” Roche said.

Title IX is incredibly important to have in place on campus, according to Patrina Krewson, a 22-year old communications major from Farmington, N.H. But she said in her view, some women do not understand the difference between gender inclusion and belittling men on campus.

“I love Norwich, I love being here. It is definitely more diverse. For me personally there was not much difference between me and the boys,” Krewson said. “ Unfortunately, I am seeing a lot more negative feminists.” Krewson said while she has always been a huge supporter of women’s rights, she will never stand by one gender attempting to control or be superior to the other.

“I support women’s rights but I don’t support it in the sense of belittling men. There will never be a time when it is okay to say that women are superior,” Krewson said.

As long as a woman can keep up with the same standards as the man is held to, then she has every right to do it. According to Krewson there is nothing more equal than equal standards.

“I see a lot of women who were quieter feminists moving towards more aggressive approach. I think women are getting louder,” Krewson said.

However Gonzalez has a slightly different take. She said that sometimes being louder is what it takes to make sure your voice is heard and respected. When a female is stern or aggressive in her leadership approach, it is received in a much different light then when a male does the exact same thing.

“Here on campus I could do the same thing that a male could do, but I will get called [names] by a certain group while others see it as leadership. Meanwhile a male will just be called a leader or a strict leader. That is where the inequality comes from in terms of females and males. It is the value of what they do and how people interpret it,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said that as new generations of Norwich students arrive they will bring their own values and opinions that will add to the overall culture on campus. It is up to those generations to continue enforcing gender equality.

“With new waves of students each year we get all different types of people that use media or politics, or personal beliefs, and bring that into the cultures that we have, and either amplify the good things or amplify the bad things,” Gonzalez said.

Students appear to support the expansion in the new Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Title IX, which would not have happened without a big effort by the university administration, Roche said.

“One thing I would really like to point out is just the support we have had from the administration since I have been here for everything that we have done. They realize that this is an initiative that we really need to kind of take the lead on and put our weight behind and they have really done it full throttle,” Roche said.

According to Davis, she sees this as only the beginning of changing the culture on campus, but Norwich is off to a great start.

“Overall, I believe Norwich is heading in the right direction but we have a long way to go. Matt Roche has been a tremendous help to changing the culture of Norwich, along with fixing and establishing new rules for sexual harassment and assault. I believe once we change the way our student body acts as a whole, then we can change the perceived idea around this topic,” Davis said.

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