President Wohlpart responds to Title IX protests

Photo+of+President+Wohlpart.+Photo+courtesy+of+CWU+Flickr

David Dick

Photo of President Wohlpart. Photo courtesy of CWU Flickr

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

President Wohlpart responded to local movements regarding Title IX allegations on campus in an interview with The Observer, offering insight into the motivations for his administration’s current actions and goals projecting into the future.

Wohlpart said Interim Vice President of Public Affairs Andrew Morse has met 2-3 times with the Board of Directors of student government regarding gender-based violence on campus. He said conversations among administrators and students regarding the handling of Title IX cases are taking place.\

“There’s a whole range of ways that we reach out,” Wohlpart said. “I’ve talked with faculty and staff, sometimes it’s a hallway conversation, sometimes it’s after a meeting; sometimes it’s an email.”

Wohlpart characterized these conversations generally, and said: “Folks have said that they appreciate the direction we’re going, the transparency, that we have had the willingness to take all of this work very seriously, to recognize that perhaps in the past we have not done things as well as we might have.”

“We are absolutely committed to going in the right direction,” Wohlpart said, adding that these conversations will eventually channel into the Gender-Based Violence Prevention workgroups announced via email (see side story). According to Wohlpart, the workgroups, also referred to as committees, will set the groundwork for the university to investigate their policies, procedures and practices. 

“Those committees really will be charged with thinking about how they will investigate best practices, learn about what we have done and then make a series of recommendations, so I’m really going to try and turn it over to them.”

Wohlpart said he asked for nominations for the workgroups from shared governance leaders by the end of November and will continue communicating about these efforts in early December.

The Observer requested access to report or sit in on the workgroup meetings, however Wohlpart said he believes this would affect the committee’s willingness to authentically discuss certain topics.

Wohlpart mentioned major shifts coming up at CWU as a result of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, changes in the Clery Act and shifts in Title IX implemented by the Biden Administration.

According to a White House press release, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is supposed to involve “increasing services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities. Specifically, the LGBTQ+ communities, survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual harassment, stalking, funding survivor-centered community-based restorative practice services and increasing support for culturally specific services.”

Wohlpart suggested that Trump reduced the individuals protected by Title IX, while Biden is seeking to expand this coverage again. 

“The Trump final rules were characterized as being less amenable to victims and more amenable to the alleged perpetrator,” Wohlpart said. “I think the Biden administration will shift that back, to give more rights back to the victims.”

“There’s more expansive embrace of different groups than has existed in the past,” he added.

When asked how he intends to support these shifts going forward, Wohlpart said it would require a change in culture which needs to happen from the bottom-up as opposed to only top-down.

“The reason that I’m taking this through shared governance is that what we need to do is not just check boxes, but change the culture,” Wohlpart said. “The way you change the culture is not by deciding things top down, but by making sure that the university community comes together to learn about this … so that it becomes part of our practice. Long term, I want this to be sustainable. I want to make sure that this exists way beyond me.”

According to Wohlpart, it is important for CWU to approach investigations in a “trauma-informed” manner. 

“Being trauma-informed is one of the hardest pieces, because unless you’re the person who has been traumatized in that kind of way, you don’t necessarily know what that feels like or looks like,” Wohlpart said. “The question is always how do you completely investigate in a way that is objective, but that also recognizes the trauma?”

Cats Against Assault, owners of the Instagram account and group of advocates, has organized two campus protests this fall concerning alleged mishandling of Title IX cases on campus (see “Cats Against Assault Responds to Administration Actions”) Wohlpart has not attended these protests. 

Wohlpart said he was present at protests in spring demanding a Multicultural Center, but that students politely told him they did not want him to be part of the demonstrations. 

“I said, ‘I agree with your effort here. I’m on your side, but I recognize that you want space,’” Wohlpart explained. “So, I am giving students space when they do protests.”

See separate story for relocated perspectives: “Cats Against Assault Responds to Administration Actions.”

New Gender-Based Violence Prevention workgroup to review policies, practices and programs