Thomason

As the CSU’s first-ever systemwide Title IX compliance officer, Pamela Thomason leads cross-functional efforts with the divisions of Academic and Student Affairs, Human Resources and General Counsel to address the issue of sexual violence across the 23 campuses.

Thomason joined the CSU in December 2014, bringing extensive experience with California’s public institutions of higher education. She most recently served as the Sexual Harassment and Title IX Officer at UCLA.

 

Why do you think sexual assault at colleges and universities been such a major topic of discussion lately?

It’s been a major topic of discussion because of student advocates. A new generation of women on college campuses is speaking out publicly and on social media. I think it’s really students who have moved the needle on this subject.  

 

Title IX is widely known for its relationship to athletics, but what does it have to do with sexual assault?

Title IX is a law that requires federal funding recipients to refrain from sex discrimination in access to educational opportunities. But people sometimes want to know: “What does sexual assault have to do with that?”

Well, if you’ve been sexually assaulted by a classmate, it might make it harder for you to come to class. If crimes are committed against women and we’re not enforcing the rules against those crimes, it’s going to affect their access to educational opportunities. That’s the connection to the federal law.

 

What is the CSU doing to make its campuses as safe as they can be and respond effectively to reported sexual assault?

Each campus has a Title IX coordinator and the system has developed policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual assault. These responses include taking disciplinary action when we have evidence to establish that there’s been a violation of policy.

Chancellor White has committed to having a sexual assault victim advocate in place on all 23 campuses to assist survivors in accessing resources and navigating reporting procedures. Additional efforts include ongoing awareness campaigns, prevention training and education, bystander awareness programs, committees and task forces to ensure proper compliance and response.

The CSU now requires that incoming freshmen, transfer students and staff members receive mandatory sexual assault training. Most campuses are going above and beyond the policy to ensure many areas of the campus communities are trained including student clubs, athletics, Greek organizations and all campus staff.

 

What is the difference between the Title IX coordinator and sexual assault victim advocate, and how do they change the way sexual assault is handled on campus?

The sexual assault victim advocate is going to make a big difference on all of our campuses. Those that already have an advocate are already noticing a change.

The Title IX coordinator is responsible for making sure that we’re in compliance with Title IX, including enforcing our policies against sexual assault and conducting the investigations that support disciplinary actions.

The sexual assault victim advocate is there to support the survivor. They’re there to help the survivor understand what his or her options are and what resources are available. It’s a way to get information and options to a survivor.

For people who have been sexually assaulted, sometimes that means someone else has taken away their control of their own bodies. We want the survivor to be in control of what happens next. It’s an attempt to provide a confidential resource—the survivor can have access to resources or accommodations, but he or she doesn’t have to report the assault to anybody. It’s the survivor’s choice. The intent is to give survivors support throughout a process that might otherwise be intimidating.

 

Why is awareness important for students?

Awareness is critical for prevention. Some students come to campus not understanding the scope of our policies. At the CSU, all sexual activity without ongoing affirmative consent to the specific activity is a violation of our policies. Also, students who are incapacitated by alcohol or other drugs cannot consent. When students are aware of what is prohibited, they can avoid engaging in misconduct.

Awareness of the consequences is also key to prevention. Our students must understand that this conduct has consequences and that it is a violation of CSU policy. So awareness tells students: “This is wrong. Don’t do it.”

Awareness also encourages bystander intervention. It helps students intervene to prevent misconduct from happening and to protect each other, both from sexual assault and from misconduct charges. Once students realize that the conduct exists and has consequences, then they might be able to protect themselves, but also their friends and those around them and in the community: The teammate who might be making a bad mistake; the sorority sister who needs to be protected, etc.

 

Moving forward, what are CSU’s future goals for sexual assault prevention?

We’ll have the survivor advocates in place on all of our campuses this year, so that’s an important step.

We’re going to see an increase in sexual assault reporting on our campuses because of that. It’s not because we are going to see an increase in incidents, it’s because students will feel more comfortable and willing to make use of the support available to them on the campus. In that sense, increased reporting will be a good thing. It will mean that survivors feel supported and it will make it possible to impose consequences for misconduct. The hope is that increased enforcement will also lead to a decrease in incidents.

Starting next year, the Chancellor’s Office will undertake routine reviews of compliance on individual campuses. We are also going to be developing public reports of the disciplinary actions that our campuses are taking. This will give people a richer understanding of the consequences of their behavior. This is the first year in which California’s affirmative consent law will be in place so we’re raising the bar and requiring better conduct.