Shanita Pettaway, the new UA Title IX Coordinator, works in her office in the UA Administration Building. Pettaway wants to improve the climate around sexual assault education at the UofA.

The new UA Title IX coordinator hopes to unite the campus community and spread awareness about sexual assault prevention after past campus controversies sparked protests and led to the resignation of the former coordinator.

Shanita Pettaway began work Oct. 4. The Title IX coordinator works with the campus community to foster an environment “free of illegal gender discrimination and sexual violence,” according to the Title IX website.

Pettaway previously worked as a policy coordinator and contract manager at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. She also served as acting Title IX coordinator at CSU, while holding a part-time graduate faculty appointment in the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Counseling.

Since Pettaway started at the UofA, she has been taking calls about sexual misconduct on campus. She is not wasting any time educating students and faculty about sexual assault and the meaning of consent, and is constantly looking for opportunities to make Title IX more visible on campus, she said.

“I think it’s important to get ahead of things and be proactive, not reactive,” Pettaway said.

Students organized protests April 23 and 30 to demand university accountability on campus sexual assault. UA officials sent a campus-wide email about sexual assault prevention in February, which many students thought perpetuated victim-blaming rhetoric and did not mention consent. Officials also paid a $20,000 settlement to a former student found responsible of sexual assault by a Title IX panel after he sued the university.

Gillian Gullett, the UA alumna and rape survivor who filed the Title IX cases against the settlement recipient, requested in April that the administration meet five demands to improve sexual assault prevention and response. They have been partly met.

One demand was that students be included in the Title IX staff selection process. Although undergraduate students were invited to participate in Pettaway’s final interview, no students were involved in the actual selection of the candidate, Coleman Warren, president of Associated Student Government, said in September.

A UA student, whose name has been omitted to protect her privacy, filed a complaint with the Title IX office after she was assaulted in February.

When the student first reached out, the Title IX office staff provided her with useful information regarding how to file a report, she said. However, the process since has been a confusing one.

“I wish I knew more upfront, like everything I’m gonna go through,” the student said. “Because even if it’s a lot, knowing what it is clarifies it, calms you down so you’re not just like wondering, ‘What am I gonna do next?”’ 

The student wishes the office would provide each victim who files a report with an individual case worker to provide mentorship and make the process more personal, she said. Figuring out Title IX procedures and which direction to take alone is stressful, the student said.

”I'm really overwhelmed,” the student said. “I know it's kind of like a business in a way because it's like, I know they don’t personally know me, and it's really hard to prioritize you and make you feel like you’re in safe hands when it’s multiple people that are coming forward with different stories.”

Pettaway thinks it is important to let individuals take the lead when they file assault reports, she said. Several resources are available if students decide to move forward with a report.

UA associate vice chancellor Danielle Williams thinks Pettaway possesses the personality and skills needed to best serve students and faculty, she said.

“I feel that (Pettaway) brings a humanistic approach to dealing with Title IX matters where students will feel comfortable engaging with her and trust that she will address their concerns appropriately,” Williams said.

The Title IX office has been fine-tuning its procedures for handling sexual assault on campus, Pettaway said. She has conducted meetings with faculty, students and staff to learn more about the needs of the campus community.

”The importance of what Title IX means and what it means to individuals, it goes back to the university mission,” Pettaway said. “Title IX makes the campus a better place.”

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