Protesters trigger change in Marshall’s Title IX program – The Parthenon

After a student-led protest on Friday morning, Nov. 18, Marshall University plans to work with the student body on restructuring the Title IX system to put students first.

The protest came three days after USA Today published a article describing the experience of two Marshall students going through the Title IX process in college. This article was part of USA Today’s series highlighting Title IX college program failures.

The article highlighted Joseph “Chase” Hardin, who sexually assaulted fellow Marshall student Alicia Gonzales in 2016. He was allowed to remain on campus through appeals despite officials Marshall initially recommended his expulsion. Hardin then sexually assaulted a second student, Ripley Haney, in 2018. He was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault in 2020.

Marshall “followed the letter of the law but missed the spirit” of Title IX, the USA Today article wrote. President Brad D. Smith addressed this criticism in an email to the university on Thursday, November 17.

“Since the time of the 2018 case, Marshall has taken several steps to strengthen its policies and procedures,” Smith wrote. “A task force was convened, the Board of Governors policy on discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual and domestic misconduct, harassment and retaliation was updated, and new administrative procedures were been developed to better address and resolve these issues.

“I love Marshall University,” said Bex Law, a sophomore journalism student who organized the protest, “but part of loving anything is responsibility.”

Law’s intent in organizing the protest was to advocate for reform of Marshall’s Title IX office by drawing attention to the experiences of victims of rape, sexual assault, and harassment on Marshall’s campus. Students, staff and community members arrived outside Old Main at 11 a.m. to show their support.

Before the protest officially kicked off, Smith joined the event with Ginny Painter, chief of staff, and Marcie Simms, vice president of student affairs.

Smith invited protesters to a group meeting with him and other university officials to discuss their concerns, questions, and the next steps Marshall will take to improve his Title IX program.

“We have to trust that you are in a safe environment and, if you ever feel less safe, that you have to understand the process,” Smith said during the meeting. “You need to know that people are there to advocate on your behalf and that you are protected until you feel comfortable. And so, if it doesn’t exist, if it didn’t exist, you hear directly from me that I apologize on behalf of our university.

Along with other protesters, Law advocated for clearer processes and changes to Title IX, including transparent communication across all academic platforms, scheduled priority counseling for victims, and tougher no-contact sanctions against suspected abusers.

“I have friends who are in class with people who have molested them or their close friends or are known to stalk people,” Law said in response to Smith. “The energy around the situation is, ‘Well, we’re a small school. It’s inevitable. It’s just not true. It is avoidable. Regardless of the size of our campus, no one should be forced into these situations.

After more discussion, Law informed Smith that the protest was the first of many plans the group had to spark a conversation about campus safety. Smith praised his efforts by thanking Law and the protesters for their actions.

“I think it’s important for all of us to make sure our voices are heard and to address issues that are important to everyone on this campus, and that’s what you’re doing,” Smith said.

After the meeting, protesters prepared their signs and marched through the snow from Old Main to the Memorial Student Center. Gathering around the fountain, survivors and supporters began sharing their stories of how Marshall’s Title IX office left them scared, angry and upset.

“It takes time to build trust,” said Sam Green, a student protester. “I think there are a lot of things that need to be changed and I know we will continue our conversations with President Smith until that trust is restored.”

Within hours of the protest, Smith addressed the university in a second email with his thoughts. According to Smith, the university’s top priorities are revamping the Title IX website and gathering feedback through a student-led task force.

“I have also come to believe that we need a student task force to review the most recent changes to our Title IX policies and to explore other ways to inform, educate and protect students on campus,” Smith wrote. “This will require input from many of you. I will ask the leaders of the group I met today to identify 4 to 5 students who could be part of the working group. We will also engage students from other groups on our campuses to ensure that all voices are heard.

Concluding his email, Smith acknowledged the difficulty of the situation but wrote, “I look forward to these discussions.”

Ryan H. Bowman