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Q&A with BYU's New Title IX Coordinator and Victim Advocate

Tiffany Turley, the manager of BYU’s Women’s Services and Resources, has been named as the university’s new Title IX coordinator. Additionally, Lisa M. Leavitt, a psychologist who has worked in BYU’s student counseling center for more than a decade, has been named as a full-time advocate for victims of sexual assault.

 Tiffany and Lisa recently talked with Carri Jenkins, BYU’s assistant to the president for University Communications, about their new roles and how BYU can best assist and support our students.

Carri Jenkins:  In your new positions, what would you say matters most to you and what will be your first priority?

Tiffany Turley:  As BYU’s Title IX coordinator, my desire is to protect and help students who have been affected by sexual misconduct, while also ensuring federal compliance and maintaining the integrity and mission of BYU. I also recognize that while Title IX has most recently been discussed in the context of sexual assault, there are many aspects to ensuring gender equity and preventing sex discrimination on campus. I look forward to leading those efforts as well. Maintaining a safe campus environment while helping our students who are in these situations in a fair and timely way is and always will be the priority of the Title IX office and myself as coordinator.

Lisa Leavitt:  Of most importance to me is providing our students with a safe haven and the support that they need to heal and be empowered to move on, allowing them to be successful in both their personal lives and in their educational pursuits. My first priority will be to establish an environment in which that process can happen. This begins with, but is not limited to, letting students know that such a place exists on campus for them.

CJ:  As our Title IX coordinator Tiffany, what unique experiences and qualifications do you bring to this position?

TT:  Title IX issues impact all of us as members of BYU’s campus community, and it’s critical that we provide an environment where victims of sexual misconduct can find the help they need and heal from the trauma they’ve experienced. Over the past five years, I’ve had a strong desire to assist victims of sexual assault as I’ve seen firsthand the significant challenges associated with this kind of trauma. My own experiences as a victim of sexual assault have driven me to become thoroughly educated on this topic and created in me a desire to help victims heal and find strength. I am a certified crisis counselor through the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and I have worked with the Rape Recovery Center on their 24-hour crisis line and on other projects. Through my training and experience, I understand the need to treat each victim respectfully and individually.  Having been through these experiences myself, I feel I’ll be able to effectively empathize with victims and reassure them of the importance of obtaining professional help that will allow them to endure and ultimately heal from their trauma. I also feel I’ll be able to offer hope to victims by showing them through my own healing experience that things can get better and that they have the potential to become stronger as a result.

CJ.  Those who work with victims understand why a victim advocate is so helpful, but can you explain to our campus community why one is needed?

LL:  Having worked as a counselor in the BYU Counseling Center for the past 12 years, I have witnessed firsthand the trauma, confusion and loss of control students experience when they have been the victim of a sexual assault. Often, victims are confused as to the type of support available, and they worry about confidentiality and safety. An important part of a victim’s recovery is providing them with a safe and confidential space where they have access to the support needed to begin the process of healing. Having an experienced person on campus who is familiar with the devastating effects of assault and who can help victims navigate that process increases the likelihood of them taking back a sense of control and moving forward in more healthy and positive ways. I believe the new victim advocate position at BYU provides such a space for our students.

CJ:  What does an advocate do and how will your past experience help you in this role?

LL:  An advocate’s primary role is that of providing support for victims in appropriate ways according to their individual circumstances. Helping victims understand their rights and connecting them with the available resources both on and off campus is a vital part of helping victims navigate this difficult experience. In addition, it is important that the victim advocate at BYU serves as a liaison for BYU in the community and keeps abreast of the current resources available to assist victims. There is also an educational aspect. An advocate has the opportunity to help other areas on campus better understand both a victim’s experience and ways in which they can best support victims. I feel that my experience as a psychologist who has dealt extensively with victims of sexual assault and having advanced training in trauma and abuse provide me with a solid foundation for taking on this new role.

CJ:  BYU is certainly not alone in having its Title IX policies and processes scrutinized.  How has BYU benefitted from the self-study BYU carried out this past summer and fall?

TT:  I appreciate the significant and powerful work done in recent months by the Advisory Council on Campus Response to Sexual Assault, and I look forward to furthering their efforts by actively leading the implementation of their recommendations.  In my work at Women’s Services and prior, I have always believed that evaluation and assessment are key to providing the best services. While the situation surrounding the self-study was not necessarily ideal, I appreciate that BYU has taken this matter to heart and has done a critical, thorough study of our processes in an effort to better help students.  I also appreciate the resources the university is now allocating to Title IX and this work. I feel the recommendations in the self-study and the resources being provided by the university will fast-forward BYU into a position of helping victims in new ways, and I look forward to BYU actually becoming a national leader with its Title IX work.

CJ:  How will you instigate the recommendations from the self-study?

TT:  As the new Title IX Coordinator, my job is to look to the future and move the recommendations of the self-study report forward, while building on the work already in place. Some recommendations are already in place, many are already in process, and I am looking forward to working with the Title IX team and other university administrators in evaluating and implementing the remainder of the recommendations. Some of them will take longer than others, but I’m confident we will be able to create some real and immediate positive change beginning this semester.

CJ: How will you work with the Honor Code Office?  How does having an honor code at BYU benefit our students?

TT:  I will be following the guidance outlined in the self-study regarding the relationship between the Honor Code Office and the Title IX Office. Title IX will now have its own designated office suite on a different floor from the Honor Code Office, which will alleviate any confusion related to a connection between the two offices. Additionally, Title IX and Honor Code investigations are completely separate. Of course, the end result of some Title IX investigations will be to provide findings to the Honor Code Office for discipline of respondents in order to maintain a safe campus environment.

With that said, I’ve been able to witness during my time at BYU the great blessing the Honor Code is in the lives of our students and campus community. The Honor Code is not meant to be punitive – it is educational and restorative. I’ve seen numerous instances of students who have worked with the Honor Code Office and had wonderful, positive, life-changing experiences.  

CJ:  How will amnesty work under the new structure?

TT:  The recommendation for an amnesty clause in BYU’s sexual misconduct policy is in process.  Making changes to university policy is not a simple process, nor should it be. However, the intent of the recommendation is already being honored in conjunction with the guidelines from the current sexual misconduct policy and there is regular, ongoing discussion on how to make this work with current Title IX cases. Ultimately, the purpose of amnesty is to encourage students to report any instance of sexual misconduct regardless of the situation surrounding it, and by so doing find access to resources and help needed to heal from the trauma. Being a victim of sexual misconduct is never a violation of the Honor Code and we hope to be able to thoroughly reinforce this message with our student body in conjunction with the new amnesty clause.

CJ:  How will students find you? 

TT:  The Title IX office will now be located on the first floor of the Wilkinson Student Center. It is a private space away from the majority of foot traffic in the WSC, and we hope this will help students feel comfortable in visiting the office to make reports, find information, and connect to resources. There is also a direct link on the BYU homepage to the Title IX website, which has information for students, faculty, staff and campus community members on how to easily access our team and services. As the new Title IX coordinator, my position also now directly reports to Vice President Jan Scharman, and thus university administration will continue to be kept well-informed of and involved in the efforts of the newly redesigned Title IX office and team.

LL:  The Victim Advocate at BYU works directly with Vice President Jan Scharman. The office is housed in Counseling and Psychological Services, and students can walk-in any time during office hours to get immediate help. There will also be after hours help available to students on a 24-hour basis.

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