Many students don’t know that USD has an office dedicated to ensuring that every student is protected against discrimination on campus.
Title IX is a section of U.S. law that protects students on college campuses from discrimination based upon race, sex, religion and other factors. In particular, Title IX extends the discrimination upon sex to include sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence, stalking and sexual coercion. Title IX obligations also extend to discrimination in recruitment, admissions counseling, financial assistance, athletics, pregnant students, LGBTQI+ students, discipline, single sex education and employment according to the Title IX office.
Located at Slagle 205, the Title IX office provides students that encounter discrimination on campus with resources.
Jean Merkle, the Chief Title IX Officer at USD, said the office can help students in many ways.
“I want to be seen as a resource office, not a consequence or discipline office,” Merkle said. “Everything is always kept confidential.”
Merkle said any student that comes to her for help is in control of the process, which she refers to as “driving the bus.” There are three options that any student has when they go to Merkle with a complaint.
The first option is simply for Merkle to record the complaint and keep it on record. Although no action is taken, documenting the complaint allows the office to keep records if multiple complaints are made against the same individual.
Second, the student can request an informal resolution where both parties convene to discuss a resolution.
The third option is a formal resolution. The formal resolution involves an investigation and hearing, which may result in legal consequences. In the process for Title IX, the individual bringing action is called a complainant, while the other party is known as respondent.
Title IX also requires all university employees to report violations to USD’s Title IX office.
“Employees have been trained to pass that information up,” Merkle said. “I don’t want to create drama in the student’s life. It’s just to make sure if they need anything, I’m helping them.”
Although Merkle said her office has seen an uptick in complaints this semester when compared to this time last year, underreporting is still a problem.
“I have always believed underreporting is very real, I think people for whatever reason are just feeling comfortable coming forward,” Merkle said. “What I do isn’t supposed to be a scary thing, it’s supposed to be helpful so we can get them back on track after something bad has happened.”
Even with the increase, Merkle has seen no complaints brought against any student athlete, fraternity or sorority member this academic year. The Title IX office may only record a complaint if a complainant requests to take one of the three courses of action listed above.
The Title IX office is located in Slagle Hall Room 205 and students can reach out to Merkle at [email protected] or call 605-658-3665 during business hours. Additionally, the Title IX office website has other resources and information for students. Off campus harassments and assaults should be reported to the Vermillion Police Department.