Florida State University is hiring a Title IX director and two sexual violence prevention coordinators before the fall term starts in five weeks.
Tallahassee, Florida (Tallahassee Democrat) -- Florida State is not waiting for the federal government to complete an investigation into the university's responses to sexual assaults before it adds additional experts to the staff and adopts a new model for making students aware of their responsibilities for maintaining a safe campus.
Garnett Stokes, FSU's interim president, said Monday that the university is in the process of hiring a Title IX director and two sexual violence prevention coordinators before the fall term begins in five weeks.
Stokes, addressing the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board for the first time since she replaced Eric Barron on April 2 as FSU's leader, said she had yet to decide if she would apply for true permanent job as the Sept. 2 deadline for submitting applications is fast approaching. Stokes, hired three years ago as provost, or executive vice president for academic affairs, admitted that she has enjoyed serving as FSU's chief executive.
She also made it very clear how she feels about sexual violence. "From my perspective," Stokes said, "one sexual assault is too many."
The university has formed several committees to assess its response to sexual violence, and it is preparing to make changes that could take effect next month, Stokes said.
"We are getting a training module that we will use for our freshmen and intend to extend that to he the entire campus," she said.
FSU is one of 55 colleges and universities identified by the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights as officially under investigation for possible Title IX violations.
The university faced the glare of the national spotlight last fall when James Winston, FSU's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, was named in a sexual assault complaint. He was never charged.
Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel and director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., described the efforts under way at FSU as "a step in the right direction."
"Nationwide, we are certainly seeing a number of institutions that need to do a better job of addressing sexual assaults and harassment. There's been a real increased awareness of students across the country who are really elevating this issue," she said. "I think many people need to do a better job. The law hasn't changed, but I think we're seeing that too many schools don't have proper polities and procedures in place."
Stokes said FSU has had a comprehensive approach for responding to sexual violence. The Office of Civil Rights in 2013 issued a public letter addressing sexual assaults on campus, and President Barack Obama has given the issue a high profile.
FSU's latest efforts are in response to the federal government, Stokes said.
"I wouldn't want to say it's all about trying to meet the guidelines coming out of the White House at this point. For me, for our campus, it's about making sure we're doing the right thing for our campus and our students," Stokes said. "Making sure we know what best practices are is pretty critical."
FSU's film school is working with student government to produce a short movie that addresses bystander responsibilities when sexual assaults are taking place. Stokes cited that as one example of the university trying to become a national leader in addressing a problem that extends far beyond campus borders.