Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Trigger warning: mention of sexual violence
Collegiate response to sexual assault and violent actions taken against students has been a widely discussed topic for many years now. Conversations have occurred on many different platforms, such as in documentaries like The Hunting Ground, discussions about administrative policies and various national student activism movements. Prior to modern movements, Title IX was passed in 1972. Harvard University defines Title IX as “a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.” In this same article, Harvard quotes Title IX: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX is often associated with sexual assault, sexual harassment and any other sexual violence that occurs on a college campus. Meredith’s Title IX policy can be found in the student handbook and on the college’s Title IX webpage.
Catie Strickland, ‘19, posted an Instagram story highlighting her experience in the summer of 2018 when she was found unconscious in the lobby of the Oaks. After being found by Meredith’s Campus Police, she was taken to the emergency room by EMS and woke up not knowing where she was, why she was there or what had happened the night before. In her words, “I met a group of people around 4 p.m. in the afternoon, one of them handed me a drink, and I literally don’t remember anything after the first sip.” While the details of the night were initially fuzzy, Strickland said that she was “covered in bruises and blood and scratches” and was sexually assaulted. When The Herald interviewed Strickland, she expressed her dissatisfaction with her conversation with Dean of Students Ann Gleason. During the meeting, Strickland said that she felt “attacked” when she was asked if she had any drinking problems and was recommended to get documented help if a situation like that happened again. Her assault was not brought up during the meeting, which didn’t sit right with her. Strickland said that she didn’t feel supported by Dean Gleason and that “to have the Title IX Coordinator not even want to address my concern over what happened was just really defeating.” While Strickland didn’t report the incident at the time, she said that as a women’s college, “we need to be at the forefront of this. And I’ve said that several times, but just, it needs to be taken seriously and it’s clearly not.” Strickland told The Herald, "My biggest concern and main reason for sharing my story was to ensure that Meredith College and Dean Gleason seriously review the role and responsibilities of Title IX Coordinator and make sure that they appropriately address situations where sexual assault either was involved or could have been involved before attacking the character of any student under any circumstance."
As many students know, one of Meredith’s Title IX Coordinators is Dean Gleason, who also functions as the Medical Amnesty Coordinator. When The Herald spoke with her, Dean Gleason spoke to her responsibilities as the Medical Amnesty Coordinator and when a situation would call for her to act in this role. She said, “Within a few days of the student’s return to campus, if alcohol or drugs are reported as the sole reason for the student emergency/transport, as stated in the campus incident reports, to the hospital, I contact the student to meet with me or the Assistant Dean of Students, following protocol as outlined in the policy…The focus of my meeting with the student is on the health and wellness of the student and any additional support the student may need in moving forward.” However, her conversations with a student differ greatly when she is acting as a Title IX Coordinator compared to when she is responding based on the Medical Amnesty policy. When she speaks with a student regarding their involvement in a Title IX matter, “even if alcohol or drugs are involved…the focus of the support is on the impact of the sexual violence on the person who has experienced it. The goal of a Title IX Coordinator is to offer information about resources and supportive measures with a focus on health and safety.” It is important to note that a student is not required to speak to the Title IX Coordinator or disclose information.
When The Herald spoke to Dean Gleason following Strickland’s interview, she expressed that she “was saddened and concerned to hear the account from a Meredith graduate that she did not feel supported by the College when she experienced a trauma in her life. Meredith College — and I — take sexual violence seriously and seek to support and assist students who experience violence of any form.” From the interviews with Strickland and Dean Gleason, The Herald concluded that there was a discrepancy in communication between what either party believed the conversation was about.
When asked for a statement regarding crisis response management, Meredith Counseling Center Director Beth Meier provided their confidential resources. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Meredith’s Counseling Center is still hosting a crisis hour at 1 p.m. every weekday that can happen over Zoom, the phone or in-person. The Counseling Center is also open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday for appointments. Meier also emphasized that there is always a counselor on call who can be reached by dialing “Campus Police at (919)-760-8888 or the Critical Response Team at (919)-612-6350.” An off campus resource that she recommends is InterAct of Raleigh, which “is also an incredible resource for people who have experienced sexual violence. They are equipped to provide sexual assault exams and a rape kit. They also provide psychological and legal support services.” These resources are available to all students when they are ready and will not be forced on them through Meredith’s Title IX response and according to Meier, “there is healing and help in the Meredith Counseling Center.”
By Elinor Shelp-Peck and Olivia Slack, Co-Editors in Chief