Amy O’Neill becomes first coordinator for sex discrimination law
Lafayette College hired Amy O’Neill this past July as the first staff member to deal directly with issues of sexual assault, harassment and other sex based discrimination on campus.
O’Neill’s position is to coordinate cases related to Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, according to the United States Department of Justice. Title IX has evolved to include sexual assault and sexual harassment as forms of sex based discrimination.
What made O’Neill stand out was her high level of expertise and experience, and ability to work well with the community, especially given the sensitivity of the issues she will be handling,President Alison Byerly said.
The main job responsibilities of the Title IX coordinator will be ensuring that Lafayette’s policies are compliant with federal mandate and ensuring that the complaint process within the institution is fair, prompt, equitable and informed.
While O’Neill’s background as an attorney may make her particularly apt to handle the responsibilities of her new position, the job is not just about compliance, said Vice President of Student Life Annette Diorio, who also chaired the search committee to hire a coordinator.
For O’Neill, the job is really about providing support and resources to students.
“I hope the students can see me as a collaborative partner, that I do want to be involved and supportive of different programs on campus.”O’Neill said. “I hope that they will reach out to me. I certainly want to be there and be involved in campus life.”
O’Neill has met with orientation leaders, pardoners, and resident assistants to help them understand the process of reporting complaints regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender non-conformity harassment.
The new Title IX coordinator will be working with the new Gender and Sexuality Program Coordinator, Cristina Usino, who will begin at Lafayette on Sept. 15. O’Neill also has plans to expand the presence of the Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Response (SASH) program and website.
“I want the SASH website to be a place where, at any time, if anybody ever has a question, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they know that they can go there, and they’re going to get correct information and they’re going to be directed to the resources that they need,”O’Neill said.
Prior to her hire, the duties of the Title IX coordinator were dispersed among other faculty, including former Director of Gender and Sexuality ProgramsGene Kelly, Dean of Intercultural Development John McKnight, Director of Human Resources Lisa Rex and other trainings by the college’s general counsel and the athletics department, Diorio said.
McKnight and Rex will remain deputy Title IX coordinators for the campus, but what will change, McKnight said, is that the college will have someone that is dedicated to doing the work, and able to focus in specifically on Title IX related issues.
“We [now] have one person whose focus is thinking about the climate on campus, thinking about how we would assess the climate on campus, what we would do with those data, [and] how we would develop programs,”Diorio said. “She is making sure that we’re thinking about these things every day.”
The decision to hire a dedicated Title IX coordinator was announced by President Alison Byerly last year.
While not requiring it of college administrations, the US Department of Education recently guidance reminding colleges to employ Title IX coordinators, which have been proliferated on campuses since 2011, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The law has not yet required institutions to hire a dedicated Title IX coordinator,”McKnight said. “But Lafayette wasn’t waiting around for that to happen. We decided, this is important to us. We don’t want to mess up. We don’t want to miss an opportunity to get it right the first time when these cases happen.”
From about 60 applicants to the position, a search committee conducted interviews with about 15 candidates before ultimately deciding to hire O’Neill, according to Diorio.