An ally in Johnson Hall: Both administration and its critics trust Darci Heroy, UO’s new Title IX coordinator
University of Oregon administration and critics of its sexual assault policies have finally found something they agree on: Darci Heroy.
As interim associate vice president and Title IX coordinator, Heroy will report directly to UO President Michael Schill, starting today, about sexual assault on campus.
Heroy’s experience as a Title IX case investigator for the university from 2013-2014, as well as her background in gender equity, make the administration’s critics, like UO sophomore Zach Lusby, hopeful.
“I was really impressed,” Lusby said after Heroy’s appointment last week. Lusby has organized many protests against the administration in the past. “It is a really strong start to getting students involved in taking a role in administration.”
The university is already battling sexual assault on several fronts: Oregon Hall has a crisis and support staff to talk to survivors, UOPD has a detective sergeant who specializes in sexual violence and associate athletic director Lisa Peterson oversees gender equity within Oregon athletics. Heroy will be the person who connects them.
“[I have] the ability to take that 10,000-foot view, rather than being in the weeds all the time, doing the work on the ground,” Heroy said.
Finding someone like Heroy was at the top of UO’s list for addressing sexual assault, which came to the forefront after a high-profile rape case in 2014 and a campus survey that found that one in five UO undergraduate women faced some kind of rape, sexual assault or unwanted sexual advance.
That list came out around this time last year — when things were very different.
Feb. 27, 2015: Clutching a large banner that read “STOP SILENCING SURVIVORS,” protesters marched in silence into Johnson Hall and then started shouting, demanding to speak to the interim university president, Scott Coltrane.
From the moment they entered the building, where the university’s top-level leadership works, it felt like a battle, said Lusby, who helped organize the rally. Administrators locked the doors and didn’t pick up their phones.
“Their faces were filled with dread,” Lusby said. “It seems like they were really scared of conversing with students.”
Days earlier, UO had countersued a student who was suing the university after she was sexually assaulted, she said, by three UO basketball players in 2014. But the university abandoned the suit after a petition signed by 1,500 people demanded UO drop it.
The protesters wanted to talk about moving forward. When an aide let Lusby and three other students in, they told Coltrane they felt betrayed by the university.
About a month later, in April, Coltrane announced his recovery plan to the university via email. The list of objectives, timed with Sexual Assault Awareness month, included hiring a Title IX coordinator and dedicating half a million dollars to expanding staffing and programs for sexual assault prevention.
What happens now
Heroy is hired on until the end of the academic year. Meanwhile, the UO will continue to search for a permanent administrator for the $105,000-130,000-a-year job. The university has been conducting a national search and has interviewed four candidates, but didn’t offer the job to any of them. Heroy was offered the job but declined to take the permanent post. She said she may yet decide to become a candidate for the position.
Heroy is new to administration, but has worked in law and is a Duck. She was a Title IX investigator taking on sexual misconduct cases at UO, and before that studied law at the university and taught law history classes.
This background is why many critics of the university are lauding her hire.
Some see her as a compassionate figure. Erin McGladrey, director of the Women’s Center, is leaving her job at the university this month because she feels UO has become “a private school” that is not accessible to everyone, but McGladrey said Heroy makes her optimistic about the future.
“I don’t think she’s scared to make the right call, even if it’s uncomfortable,” McGladrey said.
McGladrey hasn’t met Heroy, but has worked with student survivors of sexual assault who felt she was “someone they could talk to” — an ally.
UO administration also considers Heroy an ally: She’s been advising them on strategy since April 2015 — when admins originally posted her job — and they asked her repeatedly to take the position before she finally accepted temporarily, Heroy said.
Historically, when someone has had trust with the administration, they haven’t had trust with students, faculty and staff who are critical, McGladrey said, and vice versa. Heroy has trust with both groups, McGladrey said.
Other students want to wait and see. Sophie Albanis, a junior women’s and gender studies student, was one of the students who talked to Coltrane at the Johnson Hall protest. She’s now ASUO’s sexual and mental health advocate and interviewed two of the four candidates UO brought, but eventually didn’t choose for the position.
“The one thing I’d be concerned with is too much loyalty to the university,” Albanis said. “The students want somebody who will take the university to task if they need to, who will have those difficult conversations.”
Heroy has not criticized the university’s record nor indicated that she will push for any of the controversial measures some students and faculty are asking for, like suspending Fraternity and Sorority Life from growing or giving academics and staff in the UO Senate more power over the athletic department.
But Lusby and McGladrey are confident that Heroy will be “fair.” For them, this signals that after nearly two years of clashes, things at the university might finally be getting better.
In the last year, UO committed $500,000 towards the effort, hired more staff to investigate sexual assault and support survivors and started the Get Explicit! education program for students living on campus, among other things.
That’s a response to students, faculty and staff applying pressure, McGladrey and Lusby say. And in the past year, the university community’s attention has turned toward this issue. Last year, Helena Schlegel won the race for ASUO president on a slate focused on safety for survivors of sexual assault. The University Senate has formed committees and passed resolutions around the issue.
Heroy calls herself “the accountability person,” and part of her job is making sure the university complies with Title IX and is meeting students’ needs.
“Part of the function [of this job] is to hold the institution accountable to the laws the federal government has set in place,” Heroy said, “but also holding the institution accountable to what’s in the best interest of the students, faculty and staff here.”
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