Image Courtesy of the CSU Office of the Chancellor

Ex-CSU Chancellor investigated for mishandling Title IX complaints

By Antonia Lopez, September 12, 2023

An investigative article released Feb. 3, 2022 by USA Today detailed how former California State University Chancellor, Joseph Castro, had a six-year history of mishandling Title IX complaints. It was this report which led to an investigation of the Title IX practices across all CSU campuses. 

Law firm Cozen O’Connor conducted the assessment. Along with a systemwide report, the law firm wrote and presented assessments for each individual university, including Cal Poly Pomona. Their report found several flaws in CPP’s Title IX and Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation programs. 

For CPP, the review was led by Leslie Gomez, the vice chair of the Cozen O’Connor Institutional Response group, and Adam Shapiro, a member of the law firm.  

The report highlighted how the Office of Equity and Compliance team was under resourced relative to CPP’s overall population, struggled answering complaints in a timely manner, and offered minimal prevention and education regarding Title IX/DHR for the student population. 

The Cozen O’Connor staff also listed a separate section “Other Conduct of Concern.” This section investigated bullying, unprofessional conduct, microaggressions and abusive conduct. The report stated this was where the system primarily failed to respond. 

For Other Conduct of Concern, CPP was described to have no formal means of addressing these complaints, leading to inconsistent responses from the university.  

The lack of response led Cozen O’Connor to state the students, staff and faculty believed there was a lack of accountability. 

The Cozen O’Connor law firm presented their assessment on May 24 before the CSU Committee on University and Faculty Personnel by Gina Maisto Smith, chair of the Cozen O’Connor Institutional Response group, and Gomez. 

During discussion regarding how students reported feeling unsupported throughout the process of their report, Smith described how the lack of support affected the way students and staff perceive the system.   

“Effective practices require an understanding of the impacts of trauma on individuals and community. Because of the focus on these complicated processes … there’s a widespread perception across most campuses and systems that those responses don’t appropriately value the care aspects of implementation,” Smith stated. 

Smith displayed what they call the Care-Compliance Continuum, which described how they want CSU schools to treat students throughout the process.  

“Every compliance element is tied to an element of care and the goal and compliance elements, or compliance requirements is to ensure that the next person who experiences harm and chooses to come forward and share their experience won’t also receive harm by an institution based on failures and how we respond,” said Smith.  

Previous cases where the university failed to respond to student reports of Title IX have been reported on. 

After receiving the report, Dawnita H. Franklin, the Title IX coordinator/DHR administrator and vice-president of the Office of Equity and Compliance, explained how many of issues with the system originated from the lack of resources available to the OEC. 

Image Courtesy of the CSU Office of the Chancellor

Franklin explained the lack of resources and funding was an issue they knew the Cozen O’Conner law firm would draw attention to and hope this assessment will help the process. 

“One of the recommendations was to have a designated intake coordinator,” said Franklin. So, there are things like that that we have not had the resources to do that.”  

Franklin stated she was optimistic for the future of the OEC’s role in protecting and informing students regarding Title IX regulations, as well as working to ensure the safety of students on campus. 

In an emailed response, Rhonda E. Dixon, the senior coordinator of Survivor Advocate of Survivor Advocacy Services, stated “any changes in policy (Title IX) does not alter how SAS provides confidential support and/or resources on or off campus to students, staff, faculty and alumni who are impacted by sexual violence, which also includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, intimate partner violence and stalking.” 

Asa Rodriguez, an apparel merchandising and management student who uses they/them pronouns, shared their experience with all the changes in the system. 

“I’ve been in that situation. No one has ever stopped it; they just gave them a warning,” said Rodirguez, who feels the university should do more to protect students who come forward. 

Celest Gomez, a biochemistry student, described how she hopes she and others would be treated if they were to ever need assistance from the Office of Equity and Compliance.  

“I would like for them to respond appropriately and address all our concerns quickly because these situations can affect a person deeply and in their everyday live,” said Gomez. 

If anyone is in need of help, visit the Office of Equity and Compliance website for resources.  

Feature image courtesy of the CSU Office of the Chancellor 

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