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New Title IX department leader arrives at UNC

Since three federal investigations were launched into the University’s handling of sexual assault last year, UNC’s full-time Title IX office has gone from nonexistent to five positions.

And last week, Howard Kallem took the helm as the office’s first permanent leader.

A former attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Kallem said he wanted to come to UNC because of the way it is changing its policies and system for handling sexual assault cases.

“When I interviewed for this position, it became clear to me that not only is UNC creating a full-time coordinator position, which is pretty uncommon by itself, they’re creating a whole team,” he said.

“That’s just unprecedented.”

Title IX coordinators are responsible for ensuring a university’s compliance with Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 that protects students from discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex.

Many colleges have coordinators that juggle other jobs as well, but UNC will have a team of five people fully devoted to the cause.

Two positions have been filled, with Kallem and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Ew Quimbaya-Winship. UNC still has to hire a communications specialist, investigator and program coordinator.

“What the University is doing will hopefully be a model,” Kallem said. “Many of them are moving towards full time Title IX coordinators — terrific — but UNC is going well beyond that.”

Who is Howard Kallem?

Kallem, who has more than 30 years of experience in civil rights-related work, said experiences such as interning with a civil rights group, growing up in a segregated area of New York and being a member of a religious minority piqued his interest in working in civil rights and education.

“All of those things have come together and that’s what convinced me to go into civil rights,” he said.

“Education seemed to be the foundational place to go to start to make sure people are treated fairly, so when they do go into the workforce they have the skills to compete. If you don’t get a quality education and college… you’re not going to get the job.”

Kallem plans to build on UNC’s existing prevention and education programs.

“The other side of it is to have a seamless process for handling complaints,” he said. “If somebody was to complain to Christi (Hurt), or to this office, or to an RA, it doesn’t matter where, once they find the person to report to it would automatically flow into the response — they’d get the support they’d need,” he said. “It’d be a fair and balanced process that respects the rights of all parties, including the responding party.”

UNC’s Sexual Assault Task Force is currently revising the University’s sexual assault policies and will present its recommendations to Chancellor Carol Folt.

Even after the policy is finalized, Kallem said he will use his position to continuously see if changes and improvements are needed.

“(There’s) the day-to-day work of processing complaints, and the longer term of gathering information to see how our changes and processes are working … to assess the campus climate and look for areas where we need to do more,” he said.

A compliance model

Under Title IX, schools are required to have a person dedicated to handling Title IX compliance.

Amherst University, which also faces a federal complaint, hired Laurie Frankl in December to act as the school’s first full-time coordinator. She said her responsibilities range from centralizing sexual misconduct cases to coordinating prevention programs.

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“We will likely look back on this time as a tipping point in how school communities think about Title IX and react to allegations of sexual misconduct on campus,” Frankl said in an email.

But it’s rare to devote a team of full-time hires to the cause.

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Luis Pinero serves as coordinator and assistant vice provost for workforce equity and diversity.

“Having a model like what UNC is doing is a good thing,” Pinero said. “This requires a lot of resources and people who have dedicated the amount of time to the topic. This is a huge mandate. We recognize that, to do it justice, it really requires some resources that are dedicated to the topic.”

Tracey Vitchers, communications coordinator for Students Active for Ending Rape, a national advocacy group, said the trend of universities hiring coordinators is a step in the right direction.

“The question has been raised a handful of times — striking the balance between ensuring the college is compliant and that they’re compliant by doing the right thing by survivors,” she said.

“There will be that tension — is that person there to work for the university, or to help students?”

Working with students

Though Quimbaya-Winship is often survivors’ first point of contact, Kallem could also be working with students.

Some students and advocates have criticized Chancellor Carol Folt’s choice of Kallem, saying he has little experience working directly with sexual assault survivors and the Title IX Office could lack the diversity it needs.

Lauren Redding, an online communications associate for the Feminist Majority Foundation, said a Title IX coordinator should have an intersectional understanding of what survivors are going through, which could vary based on their race, gender and sexuality, she said.

“Title IX coordinators are often one of the first administrators that students will come into contact with when they report,” Redding said. “When a survivor discloses to someone, that person’s reaction dramatically affects recovery from then on out.”

Andrea Pino, who co-filed a federal complaint in January 2013 criticizing UNC’s handling of sexual assault, said Kallem’s challenge could be that he’s coming from a legal background rather than having experience working directly on survivor support.

“We’re not tackling this as a UNC issue, we’re tackling this as something we have to take care of,” Pino said. “We’re dealing with compliance, with procedure, which they spent many months forming, but we haven’t had a conversation about the basic support systems that are lacking.”

Kallem said he is committed to supporting UNC’s survivors, and said he hoped to have a chance to listen to students’ experiences at UNC, both good and bad.

“We want to do more than comply with Title IX — we want to create a safe environment for both male and female students at all levels, undergraduate and graduate.”