UPDATED: Oct. 18, 2019. 9:45 AM
Brandeis students, faculty and staff can now report incidents of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct anonymously online, where the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO)—an office formed in March 2019 that handles university-wide misconduct reporting—can follow up with reporters while maintaining their anonymity.
Prior to the online portal, Brandeis did not have the capability to follow up with anonymous reporters. The portal is hosted by the third party EthicsPoint, an incident management software run by a global ethics and compliance management company that offers secure protection for anonymous reporters, said the first director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Sonia Jurado in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.
“That information isn’t coming to Brandeis. It’s being held by this third party,” said Jurado. “There’s no way of getting that information, so somebody who’s reporting anonymously and doesn’t want to be known will not be known through that system.”
The online portal allows a student, faculty or staff reporter to input a password, and when a report is submitted, a report key is generated and sent to the reporter, said Jurado. This key and password allow reporters to return to the site and allows investigators to ask follow up questions and provide resources to the reporter.
“That’s where I can post information to somebody who’s anonymous,” said Juardo. “I still don’t know who they are, but I can give them information about support resources, I can ask questions, and they can give me more information without me knowing who they are. We can actually set up a time to live chat again with them being completely anonymous,” she continued.
Follow up capabilities are crucial, said Jurado, because anonymous reports limit how much action the Office of Equal Opportunity can take on a reporter’s behalf. With the online portal, complaint investigators can ask follow up questions and provide resources for the reporter.
“If somebody reports anonymously, it’s really important that they follow up because otherwise we probably will not be able to take action on what they’ve reported. But if they do follow up on this portal which allows us to do that, it increases the probability [of action],” said Jurado.
The online portal went live this August, said Jurado, and has been tweaked to make sure it is accessible and clear to all Brandeis community members. The portal is one of the multiple changes to reporting at Brandeis, which began with the consolidation of sexual harassement, racial discrimination, employee discrimination and accesibility reporting in the Office of Equal Opportunity, or Titles IX, VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The OEO—which currently has two employees, Jurado and OEO Investigator Valerie Imparato—also plans to hire an additional investigator, who Jurado hopes will begin working next semester. The office has received about 20 to 30 applications since they’ve begun their search in August, said Jurado, and is hoping to find a person who has dealt with civil rights investigations in the past.
The OEO handles all reporting at Brandeis for all students, staff and faculty, said Jurado, and may expand further if necessary. It also handles the investigation and resolution of any reports. The office reports to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, led by Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas, said Jurado, who said Brimhall-Vargas is committed to providing the office with the resources it needs.
Jurado has also revised Title IX policies at Brandeis to reflect her office’s central role. Prior to the OEO, reporting Title IX incidents was housed in the Brandeis’ Human Resources office.
“I felt like it [the policy] was overly complicated,” said Jurado. “My goal was just to try and streamline it and make it as efficient as possible. It also wasn’t reflective of the fact that we now have on office that specializes in these issues, we now have dedicated investigators who deal with these issues. The revisions were meant to reflect the changes in the structure here in the institution.”
The office has no data on the average number of days a matter is open, wrote Jurado in an email to The Hoot, but the office has a goal of 90 days to complete formal resolution processes for all formal complaints of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.
“Depending on the complexity of the investigation, more or less time may be required to complete the process. Sometimes a person will work with our office for weeks or months before deciding to initiate a complaint. That would increase the overall amount of time a ‘case’ is open, but it is essential that we give those individuals the space and control they need to decide if and how they want to proceed,” wrote Jurado to The Hoot. “We move as quickly or as slowly as a person needs when they are deciding whether to initiate action.”
New guidance on sexual misconduct released Sept. 2017 by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights stated that “There is no fixed time frame under which a school must complete a Title IX investigation.” Under the 2011 Obama administration guidance, the guidance recommended that a typical investigation take 60 calendar days following the receipt of the complaint.
Since June of this year, the OEO has also trained about 2,600 faculty, students and staff at Brandeis, said Jurado, including President Ron Liebowitz and his senior cabinet. The training includes behavior expectations for faculty, staff and students, information on support resources, resolution process and reporting obligations for university members.
The office will also hold an open house on Oct. 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Intercultural Center (ICC) to give students, faculty and staff the opportunity to talk with Jurado and Imparato and to learn more about the office.
The OEO is currently located in Swig Hall and will be moving to Bernstein-Marcus in summer 2020.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Jurado’s name. The date of the founding of the Office of Equal Opportunity was also March 2018, not March 2019. OEO also handles the investigation and resolution of any reports of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct. The 90 days goal is also not limited to Title IX complaints, but all formal complaints.