Title IX aims to regain trust of student body

By Jay Roberson

After recurring vacancies and changes within the office, Ryan McKinney took over as the permanent Title IX director just over a year ago. 

Now, as of March 26, McKinney determined that Rider’s office of Title IX and Equal Opportunity Compliance dealt with 41 student reports in the 2023-24 academic year.

‘The emergency room’ at Rider

“We’ve sort of become the emergency room in a lot of ways because we triage things very quickly together, then make sure they go where they need to go,” said McKinney. “I’m very proud that we created an office that is well known, accessible and hopefully trusted to do right for students.” 

Only two cases were under investigation by the anti-harassment and non-discrimination policy, which resulted in no hearings. 

“Even if it isn’t a violation, there’s some things we can do to help remedy the situation. We’ve sort of developed this office that can manage anything that comes our way in some fashion,” McKinney said. 

McKinney explained that the higher number of reports indicates that students are beginning to trust the Title IX office after a year of rapid changes         in directors. 

“I would be more concerned if the numbers were very, very low; that would tell me that we’re not doing our job,” said McKinney. 

Issues that are reported range from sexual and dating violence, managing the end of relationships and friendships to problematic interpersonal communications with peers, faculty and staff. 

Title IX Coordinator Debbie Stasolla, who works alongside McKinney, said, “We try to work with them to really get at the issue at hand and make things better. Usually, they’re reporting because they’re very unhappy about something and they need help navigating it.”

Stasolla and McKinney indicated that the complainant is “put in the driver seat” and chooses what they would like to do to remedy the situation. 

McKinney said, “Sometimes [the students] are comfortable with just a no-contact order … Sometimes it’s as simple as an informal conversation, it just depends on what that student wants and oftentimes students just want to document it.” 

In unique circumstances, Stasolla said, “We might have to make a decision because we’re concerned about the safety and well-being of the rest of the community.” 

Students express support from office

Junior acting major Emily Porter Siegel, who uses they/them pronouns, contacted Title IX in October after dealing with issues within their department in spring 2023. 

“I reached out to them like, ‘I don’t know how to tell you about this issue, but I need to tell you about this issue because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.’ Immediately they said they’d love to talk to me about it,” said Siegel. 

Title IX responded to Siegel’s report on the same day they emailed the office. 

“It was really interesting because [in the meeting] they were like, ‘You’re not like other people who’ve come to talk to us. You’re being very reasonable and level-headed and action-oriented.’ I don’t really know if I love the way it was said,” said Siegel. 

Siegel explained they did receive a fair amount of support from the Title IX office, but they were unsure if their additional comments were relevant to the issue at hand.

“If other people aren’t comfortable saying something about this, then someone needs to say something about it,” said Siegel. “So it was weird to have them say I’m not like other people. No, actually, I’m very much like other people and I had the whole summer to process and make my peace with it.”

Similarly, an anonymous student had the Title IX office reach out to them on the same day they talked to a mandated reporter about a situation their friend was facing. 

“I didn’t even get a chance to talk to [my friend] before I went in … So I spent the first half of that meeting trying to figure out if I should give her name,” said the student. 

The anonymous student gave McKinney their friend’s name, but the friend did not want to report the incident. 

“I got an email that she didn’t respond to their emails,” the anonymous student said. “She doesn’t have to. They said ‘You should tell her to report,’ but it’s not my issue. It’s not my incident, and I already got put in a bad position by being placed there in the first place.”

After a series of four emails the anonymous student said, “McKinney said, ‘She’s not obligated to talk to me, I just want to make sure you and her are aware of what this office provides.’ I was aware, but it wasn’t my decision.” 

Though the emails were overwhelming for the student who did not want to report, the Title IX office wanted to assure her that they have an open door. 

In regards to solutions for their report, Siegel said, “[The results] are not perfect, but I feel like something has shifted and we’re moving in the right direction. I just haven’t seen any concrete changes implemented, but I see an overall shift in the tone of how things are working now.”

History of the office

In November 2022, The Rider News released an article outlining serious concerns from students and the handling of reports from Title IX staff at the time: Barbara Lawrence, former Title IX coordinator, and Pauline Lloyd, past Title IX director. Lloyd departed eight days after the article was published. 

After an interim director left and Lawrence transitioned to focus solely on her position at the time as chief diversity officer, McKinney and Stasolla took over the office and vowed to fix things. Stasolla has held many roles at the university, with McKinney joining after working in Title IX work prior. Lawrence left the university in July 2023.

“We’re going to do our damnedest to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, and that we address any complaints as soon as possible,” said Stasolla after taking over in March 2023. “I know that’s easy for me to say … but I’ve got to prove myself, and so does [McKinney].”

Now, a shift has been seen since issues surfaced from the student body in 2022, with students mentioning support from the office. 

Siegel said, “It’s good to be secure in that feeling that I can go to these people and things will change to a degree or people will listen more here.”

Outgoing executive editor Amethyst Martinez contributed to the writing of this article.

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