BYU appoints new Title IX coordinator, victim advocate

Tiffany Turley’s main goal as Brigham Young University’s new Title IX coordinator is simple: create an environment where students feel able to report sexual assaults.

“The safety and well-being of students is definitely my primary concern,” said Turley, 35, who previously served as the university’s Women’s Services and Resources manager.

On Friday, BYU announced that Turley would oversee the school’s Title IX office, tasked with implementing the federal law that requires universities to swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual violence. Turley replaces Sarah Westerberg, who will continue to serve as associate dean of students.

The change is one portion of the 23 recommendations put forth by an internal advisory council, which BYU officials announced in October they plan to follow. Last year, the council completed a study of the university’s sexual assault response.

Scrutiny of BYU’s policies began in April, when then-student Madi Barney spoke out at a campus rape-awareness conference about how Title IX personnel treated students who reported sexual assaults. She later launched an online petition for the university to adopt an amnesty policy and allow victims of sexual assault to report crimes without fear of school discipline.

BYU is one of three Utah colleges — including the University of Utah and Westminster College — under federal investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

The university also on Friday announced the addition of a victim advocate on campus. Lisa Leavitt, a psychologist in the university’s student counseling center, will now serve as a full-time advocate for sexual-assault victims.

Other changes recommended in October include creating a new physical space to separate the Title IX and Honor Code offices, which BYU already has done. And Turley will report to a vice president — previous Title IX coordinators reported to the dean of students, who also oversees the Honor Code Office.

A dozen current and former BYU students interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune said the Honor Code Office became involved when they reported sexual abuses to Title IX. Students said school officials probed their conduct, reviewing curfew violations, what they were wearing, and even their communications with others about the Honor Code process — although the students had said they had not consented to sex.

Several students said Westerberg defended involving the Honor Code Office when they went to Title IX for services or to report an assault.

And at the April conference where Barney spoke out, Westerberg acknowledged that while it might have a “chilling” effect on reporting, the Title IX office would “not apologize” for referring students to the Honor Code Office for investigation and possible discipline.

The Honor Code at BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, forbids alcohol and coffee, restricts contact between male and female students, imposes a strict dress code and bans expressions of romantic affection between people of the same gender.

Granting amnesty to victims who disclose Honor Code violations at or near the time of an alleged assault was a major recommendation by the advisory council.

Turley said “constant discussions” are happening about adding an amnesty clause to university policy, but the details have not yet been finalized.

Todd Hollingshead, a university spokesman, said meetings are being held “almost on a daily basis to implement the other recommendations.” They hope to have more in place by the end of the semester.

Janet Scharman, the university’s Student Life vice president, said Turley is uniquely qualified for the position not only because she is a certified crisis counselor through the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, but also because she is a sexual assault survivor.

“She has a clear understanding of all aspects of Title IX and has become a passionate advocate for women and those impacted by sexual violence,” Scharman said.

Turley was sexually assaulted in 2009 while attending Westminster College, she said — an experience she said helps her understand the importance of connecting victims to resources.

Under Title IX — a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education — school officials must “take immediate and appropriate steps” to investigate and address potential sexual violence.

Schools are also required to protect victims and eliminate the “hostile environment” created in the aftermath of an attack. A student who may have been the victim of a sexual assault is entitled to immediate services, such as housing changes and class adjustments or more lenient deadlines.

Because she was sexually assaulted in college, Turley “understands the concerns students are facing when it affects” their schooling, she said. “I hope I can provide them hope that it can get better, because I’ve seen how it’s gotten better in my life.”

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article