Join Angela Delfine-Mechler and Patrick O'Donnell as they interview Sam Wilmoth, Title IX Education Specialist for the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Sam helps support students going through the Title IX process and offers trainings to students on campus. Sam will talk about Title IX at WVU as well as some of the resources that the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion provide to all students at WVU.
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another week of Towers Talk. I'm Angela. And I’m Patrick. Welcome back to another week. Towers Talk podcast is brought to you by Lyon, Braxton and Bennett Towers. Towers. You can live anywhere, but when you're here, you're home. All right. So today we are joined by Sam Wilma, the Title IX education specialists from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Sam helps students self-support students going through the Title IX process and offers training to students on campus. So welcome Sam. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And I know this is a podcast. It's not like our listeners can talk back to us, but I use either he or they pronouns.
Should you run into me? Somewhere else, I would be happy to talk to you and I'm delighted to be here. And let me just say. That little slogan about like being home Towers that really got me. Like, I feel a little, I feel a little moved a little bit. I don't even live in Towers. I was like, I'm going to my house, and it may be not as homey as Towers.
You're welcome to join us.
Wow. Thank you. I appreciate it, man. Thanks.
Thanks for that, Sam. And at some point we should give a story to the audience and one of these episodes about how we came up with that and everything and the origins to TTP, but behind the scenes, that sounds cool.
It would be a real weird one. Yeah, that's right. All right. So before we get started we do want to inform our listeners that we'll be discussing Title IX, which can be triggering for some folks. So. You know, we just want to put that out there before you actually, you know, before you get too deep into this.
So to get us started, Sam, can you share a bit more about your educational background and how you ended up working at WVU? Sure I'd be happy to. So my background is in social work, I have an MSW and you know, one of the things that I think is important to emphasize in social work is something that's right there in the name, which is the word social.
That you might go see a social worker as a, a clinical therapist. For example, I am not one of those, but you might see a social worker for counseling, but what distinguishes social work from a lot of other fields? Is the whole idea of not just treating the individual you're working with, they're trying to help them specifically, but also asking the question, what are the social forces or the structural forces that are actually contributing to.
You know, someone having some obstacles in their lives, in the first place. So as a joke that I tell that you shouldn't laugh at, you should not reward me for this joke. It's bad is that if you ask the difference between like a social worker and a counselor or a psychologist a social worker is a lot like those two disciplines, except social worker calls their congressperson.
And that is the difference, right? Is that it's focusing on the context and trying to say what are the big, the things in society that need changing? Not just the little things that we can change about ourselves therapy. So before I worked at WVU, I was with an organization called West Virginia foundation for rape and for information and services, that's West Virginia frizz.
And if they're listening, they're going to be upset for me, butchering their name just now. It's a great organization. And it's the state coalition against sexual violence and stalking. And so I was working with them for several years before I came to WVU. And now I work in the office of equity assurance at the division of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam. So can you talk to us a little bit about title IX and what that means for students who are not familiar with that term? Sure. I mean, and it's understandable if you're not familiar with it. Because in the United States, at least we have a patchwork of different civil rights laws and Title IX is just one of them.
And you might hear that terminology like Title IX, title four, title six, all of these things just kind of thrown around and unless you live in this. Particular kind of professional universe that can get confusing pretty fast. So Title IX is just one federal civil rights law. It has to do with discrimination based on sex and increasingly discrimination based on gender.
And we can talk about that sort of changing case law if you want to later. But basically what it says is that if you are in educational institution and you get federal funding, which most educational institutions in this country do. Then you have an obligation to be doing something about discrimination based on sex.
And that could take a lot of forms that might need addressing. Sexual harassment on campus. It might mean addressing gender discrimination. It might also mean addressing certain kinds of violence that are tragically common on college campuses across this country. Things like sexual assault or domestic violence or stalking.
So it's worth mentioning though that, you know, sometimes people will call us the Title IX office and we smile through it, but it actually just like, Oh, it makes us grind our teeth. Because. It's just about discrimination based on sex. And we're kind of known as the Title IX office. Well, then that incorrectly implies somehow that the only kind of discrimination we exist to deal with is discrimination based on sex.
And nothing could be further from the truth. Our office exists. To address all kinds of discrimination whether it's based on race or disability or religion we want to make sure that people in our community are, are being treated fairly and kindly rather than experiencing something discriminatory because of some part of who they are.
So if we're kind of informally known as the title line office. Okay. But we do a lot more than just address discrimination based on sex. I know that's what we're going to be focused on in this podcast and that's okay. But we don't want people to be mistreated and say, Because of gender identity or you know, because of veteran's status or religion or any of these things.
And so it's good that we have an office that's devoted to the concept of fairness more broadly than just one civil rights law which is title IX. Awesome. Thank you, Sam. And thanks for clarifying that. Yeah, that was really thorough. I mean, I, I learned a lot from that and I'm sure that our resident listeners will learn a lot from it as well.
Oh, so what does the reporting process look like for students who may have experienced a title IX violation? How does your office support them? Oh, this is a great question. So some of you might have read about in the sort of closing days of the Trump administration, they released some federal regulations that changes a lot about how.
Colleges and universities deal with Title IX related issues. And again, you know, and unless there's some trends, true policy nerds in your audience, I don't know what kind of demographics you have. It's a policy nerd crowd. I will go really far it, the weeds with this thing, but the, the. Main function that I would say our, our office is, is providing right now is to provide help to people, to provide services to people.
And that's, I think really what I want them to remember. It's a lot of times we'll have people come to our office and they'll say, you know, I'm not sure if I want to do a formal investigation, but I am sure that I need to get a, a new dorm room, right. Because I'm experiencing stalking and, and this person knows where I live.
I want to feel safer. Okay. Whether they want to do an investigation or not, we can work with the great folks at ResLife to fix that. Okay. Maybe they might say I I'm experiencing something really difficult, like sexual harassment or assault. And I have papers due next week. I know I can't get these turned in on time and I need some help with that.
Okay. We can help. Right. We can get you a traumatic incident letter to get a little flexibility with your professors. Maybe get some extensions on assignments. We can link you up with the great folks at the career center. Where if you're faculty and staff, it's the faculty staff assistance program.
Right. And get you access to a counselor. There's like all kinds of things that we can do to help whether or not someone wants to file an official report. And that's always. Really important to say. The other part of what we do, I would say is kind of helping manage the complexity of you know, filing a complaint and not knowing where it goes from there.
So we will handle the, the sort of regulatory stuff for you, right. And maybe That you have experienced some kind of discrimination and the, the law that most applies to it is Title IX, but it might be, you know, it's. Title four title seven. Right. And you don't need to know that stuff. We, we can help you sort of guide you through the process, but let's just say someone came to our office or they filed an official complaint.
They said, understandably you know, something really terrible has happened. And I want to do an investigation. I want to go through the process because You know, I think this is really important. Well, then what our office would do is our case manager would assign that case to an investigator. Someone who either works in Student Conduct or Talent and Culture, right?
Whether it's a student or an employee case and then we would try to make sure to coordinate some services while the university looked into this one simple question, which is. Is there something that's happened here that has broken West Virginia university's policy? And if, so we complete that investigation.
Well, then that can go in a lot of different directions after that, right? Maybe someone who's found responsible for breaking university policy you know, receives a suspension or an expulsion. Maybe it's a person who you know, is working here and then is fired as a result of breaking this policy.
Those things can happen, but we also have. Folks who filed a complaint or who want to do an investigation. And they say, listen, I don't want to do you know, a full hearing where we're talking about expulsion or suspension. Here's what I want. I I'm, I'm being stalked. I want the behavior to stop. I want to get a new you know, place to live on campus.
And then I'd like this person. Who I keep seeing everywhere to have to like, take some classes, to do some kind of educational intervention where they understand that what they're doing is scary and harmful. I want them to get that that education and in a lot of cases when, you know, the person filing the complaint you know, gives us that feedback.
We try really hard to, to honor that. Now there might be situations where something like really dangerous. Is happening or maybe we're getting multiple reports about the same person who's, who's engaged in stalking and you know, different places on campus. Well then maybe the university would have to say, listen, it's going to have to be more than.
And educational sanction here. This person really shouldn't be part of our community because they're stalking other people as well. Right. But those cases can happen. But most of the time, if the person filing the complaint who is being directly affected by this like negative behavior says, Hey, I have some input about what I would like to happen.
If the investigation shows there was a policy violation here, you know, WVU tries really hard to listen to that you know, to that feedback and to take that into account. And I know that's a lot of complexity there. Right. But I think here's the bottom line. If you come to the office of equity assurance, that's my office.
And you say something really difficult has happened in my life. And I just want to talk to someone about my options. We can have a conversation with you doesn't commit you to anything, right. You can just hear what your options are here, what kinds of services you can get. And that's really what I encourage everyone to do as a start.
Thank you so much for that, Sam. And I'm going to jump in, it sounds like WVU, you know, does a lot to put power back into the hands of the folks that come forward for a Title IX camp complaint. Can you talk about why that's so important in those situations? Yeah, so there's a couple of things to say here, so.
The first of course, and you know, we haven't talked about it just yet, but those services that I talked about, like access to counseling or you know, you know like getting a traumatic incident letter, those might apply to both people in a, in a given case. Right. So it might be. Person files a complaint and says I'm experiencing sexual harassment at, at work and I want to have an investigation.
And that's obviously, okay. It might be that the other person says, well, Hey, there's this complaint about me? And You know, I like to talk to someone about how the process is going to work and I'd like to get access to counseling too. And you know, so long as it makes sense, as long as it's a reasonable request, like while we're doing an investigation, we actually provide services to everyone in our university.
Nevertheless, I want to answer your question by Asking your listeners to imagine that they're supporting a friend, because here's where I think giving power and control back you know, is, is maybe like the easiest thing to understand. Let's say you have a friend who comes to you and says I've experienced a sexual assault.
Right. And if they would say it in obviously more human sounding way than I just said that. Right. But it's a hard conversation to have that you know, something really bad happened and I need help. I don't know where to go. If you were that person's friend. That it is very, very helpful for you to remember the imperative, to try to give that person some power back, some choice back.
And that means not giving a bunch of advice and telling them what they should do or to whom they should report or whatever. Right. Even if you personally have strong feelings about that, you want to support a survivor of violence, offer them options and let them choose. Right. So for example, maybe a sexual assault survivor really wants to get medical care at Ruby Memorial.
Maybe they want to get to you know, a medical forensic exam, get some you know prophylactic medication to stop sexually transmitted infections. That those are services that are available at Ruby Memorial. And for WVU students, by the way, those services will be free at Ruby Memorial. I want you to know that, right.
But. Just because it's an option. Doesn't mean it's a requirement either. So as someone's friend, you wouldn't want to tell them like, Hey, you really need to go to the hospital. And they're saying, I'm not sure I want to. And you're saying, no, no, no, trust me, I'm going to take you to the emergency room and you're going to, you know, that's not help.
Okay. These are crimes of power and control. Things like you know, being locked in an abusive relationship and not being able to make really basic choices about your own life. That's about power and control. And so if you want to help a friend who's experiencing a crime of power and control for goodness sake, don't try to control them, right.
Offer them options, not advice. And I think that is really important. Now there are situations where. As an institution, our response can't be quite that simple, right. There might be really dangerous situations where let's say we're dealing with an abusive relationship and outside of a residence hall, we've got surveillance footage of one student's striking another.
You know, some of that they're, they're dating and then maybe you know, that student who was hit, comes to us and says, well, you know, I'm not really sure I want to do an investigation and then we'd have to say, well, listen, we're looking at a video of somebody, you know, hitting you. And that's a really dangerous situation and something that we can't ignore and we shouldn't ignore as an institution.
Right. So there are situations where we have to move forward with an investigation in a really dangerous situation. But what I would say most of the time is that the person who is potentially experiencing some kind of violence has a lot of control in most situations about what kinds of things we can investigate and what kinds of things we can.
So just. For a second, try to imagine how it would even work to investigate an abusive relationship. If the person experiencing abuse didn't want to do an investigation, right. And practice would be quite difficult to gather lots of information about that. So in that sense, the person who potentially experiencing abuse has a lot of choices that they could make about, you know, do I want to talk to an investigator?
Do I want to do an investigation and we just want to support our students no matter. What choices they make. We want to try to give them as many services as they feel like they need, but we understand that talking to people about issues like sexual violence or stalking or abusive relationships, that's hard.
And we don't believe in, you know, compelling you know, students to have that conversation. If they don't feel like they're ready or if they don't want to have it. Okay. So that's a really important part, I think, of, of serving survivors of violence. Well if you're a friend and someone comes to you and says, Hey, I'm in trouble.
I need help. Remember that you want to give them some control of that situation instead of trying to make them do stuff. That's a really important thing. So thank you for asking that question. Awesome. Thank you so much for answering that, Sam. I, I agree. I think it was really important to talk about that.
So to jump into kind of another I guess another topic, but we're really interested in hearing, you know, what other resources or other events does your division you know, are you offering this semester? You know, what, do you have any big events going on right now that you want to talk about?
Yeah. So we have lots at all times, right? So people, again, this is, this is why we sometimes don't like being called the Title IX office, right. Because we're doing so much more than that. So in our division, we have the office of diversity initiatives and they are doing. All kinds of awesome programming really year round.
So, you know as we're recording, I don't know when this will come out, but it's, it's February now, which is black history month. And I hope that everyone listening is going to be attending the events throughout campus or you know, the online, so to speak celebrating black history because it's so important.
So my colleague Spencer Darden and I sorta Vasquez you know, they are helping coordinate events all across campus and, and generally in any given month, we're, we're doing that. So one of the things that we're working on as a division is trying to set up diversity, equity and inclusion committees in you know, Pretty much every school or department in the university.
So for example, if you're a health sciences students, every school in health sciences has a diversity equity and inclusion committee that is doing their own events and that we're working with. Directly you know Everly, Everly colleges is, you know, getting their committees going. We've got the, the honors program has their own diversity equity and inclusion committee and on and on and on.
And so what we're trying to do is get programming about building a more inclusive community. It really sort of woven throughout the fabric of. You know, this institution and that involves lots of different events. So you know, I know we're, we're recording this right now on, on Tuesday, but tomorrow we're doing another event together which may have already passed by the time you're listening to this podcast.
So maybe you edit this out. I don't know, but you know, we're, we're doing a panel on sexual health and issues like consent. Sent. And so at all times during the universe or the university's academic year, just some punch of programs along these lines, dealing with you know, maybe it's. An event the LGBTQ plus center is putting on or you know, it's an event that our division is putting on or express life putting it on.
What I would tell the listeners is open up the calendar on WVU is website. And just like once a week, just look at what's there. And I promise you, there are going to be events about you know, what it's like. To grew up, grow up in a culture that's different than the one that you grew up in, or about building a better, more inclusive community about it, avoiding microaggressions or addressing consent or any number of other cool programs.
Like if you're interested in this stuff, I promise you, we're doing at times. Awesome. That was very informative. I'm sure a lot of our, I hope that a lot of our students that are listening are going to take your advice and check out the online calendar for all the things that could help them to, you know, learn about what's going on at the university and hopefully expand their horizons.
All right. So when it comes to your work I know it, I'm going to say this, but in the title in Title IX what do you think is the most that's important piece of advice or a port, sorry, most important piece of information that you want students to remember what I know at certain points you said earlier in the podcast, like if you remember nothing else from this, what is it?
So what, what are some of those things. Yeah. So I'm tempted to say that I want you to remember that the office of equity assurance is here to help and that there's a lot of services we can provide to people who are in need, but on some level, I find that answer less than satisfying because by the time someone needs help by the time someone because they've experienced an assault or an abusive relationship needs to come to our office or needs to consider an investigation, then we already have a kind of community-wide failure.
And I wanna hold on this point because I, I think it's important. We cannot have a culture in this country that sustains levels of violence. Like one in four college age women, or one, one, six men under 16 experiencing sexual abuse. Right? I mean, and the numbers fluctuate depending on what we're talking about, but like, no matter where we decide the rates of prevalence for things like abusive relationships or stalking or, or, you know, any of these kinds of violence might be it's too much.
It's too much. And my dream is. To do such a good job of prevention on the front end that the university just has to fire me because they don't need my help on the backend anymore. And so like, I want to talk about services. I want people to remember those services are there, but I also want us to feel the weight of collective failure each and every time there is an assault somewhere in this community or in the culture that we've built.
More broadly. So, okay. Now that I've just been like a huge bummer. Let me, let me just say what I, the, the one thing that I actually want them to remember might be each and every one of you is going to have a situation in the future where you are a bystander to injustice. Where you witnessed something and you think this is not okay, or, Oh, this doesn't seem right, or, Oh, this seems dangerous.
And in that moment, you will need to make a choice about who you are or about who you want to be. And so if I could pick one thing to say, I would say, think ahead of time about the kind of person you want to be. And step up and help prevent things like violence or discrimination from happening in the first place, make an office like mine, irrelevant and unnecessary and do it soon.
That would be what I would want. People to take away from this now I don't want to make it sound too easy. Right. We can all think of situations where we were bystanders to something and we kind of froze up, but we weren't sure what to do if you're in that category with me you know, you're not a bad person you're normal, right.
But it does signify an opportunity for us. To get better. And especially as, you know, folks graduate, they move into positions of leadership, which we expect WVU students to run the world. Okay. Like when you move into positions of leadership, then these are questions that you need to ask yourself. What happens if I'm in a staff meeting and somebody makes a comment in my workplace that is say discriminatory.
Or is, is belittling you know, based on someone's gender or their race, for example, like how will I, as a leader step up in that moment and make it clear, actually, that kind of comment is not okay. And that we're going to build a better workplace or a better community than that. Right. Doing that effectively.
Takes time. It takes planning, it takes creativity. It, you know, I imagine bystanders helping in all kinds of ways. I'm going to give you one specific example from a real student at WVU. That made me super happy. So this was years ago I had a student approached me after a training and say that he was providing This, this is back in the before times when, when you know, people could, could be with other human beings without fear.
Do you remember those times? Do you all remember? Vaguely it's just so long ago now. It's just hard to imagine. Okay. Yeah. And so it's weird. So in the before times this was a, a student who is actually doing something really nice for fellow students who doing a sober driving service and trying to get people home safely.
And in the process of picking folks up, he told me one person got into the passenger seat of his car and was trying to roll down the windows and yell. Harassing things at women on high street and this student who was in the driver's seat wasn't sure exactly what to do and try saying, Hey, stop that a couple of times.
And the person in the passenger seat would not listen. And then finally he told me the students in the driver's seat decided to do something simple. He just rolled the guy's windows up. Every time, this person in his passenger seat tried to roll the windows down and yell something disgusting and dehumanizing at a woman on high street.
The, the driver just held the button in and rolled the window back. And I'll never forget that example because it was so simple. What he told me was, what I realized is that like all I needed to do in the moment to stop people from feeling bad was just hold a button and roll the window up. And sometimes bystander intervention can be that simple.
It's just about thinking creatively. Now hopefully, you know, the next day we can have a conversation with this person about like, Hey is, is the butt of the joke here that you're making you know, women feel afraid on high street? Cause I don't think that's funny. I think it's disgusting.
But I want us to have that conversation but in the moment to stop the harm what this sober driver needs to do is roll the window up. And I think that. To have the presence of mind to do something like that as a bystander is a really important part of what it means to do your part and make a better community.
We can do that here. We can do that everywhere that we move after we graduate and we should. So that's what I want people to remember. That was amazing. I think that, I mean, I can say for myself, but I think everyone will remember that. So thank you so much, Sam. Yeah. And thank you to the students. Should they be listening?
Who came up with that brilliant intervention? But yeah, I, I appreciate the time to talk to you folks. All right. So the last question that we ask, all of our, all of our guests Sam is what is one piece of advice that you wish to share with our first year students here at WVU? Love your critics.
That's what I'd say. Love your critics. So if you Are thinking closely about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly if you're a person like me that just has like a dump truck full of privilege behind him at any given time. It's gonna feel uncomfortable to you at times. And so what I would challenge all the listeners to do is to interrogate that discomfort a little bit, ask if it's reasonable and remember.
That most of the time in life, when we have critics, if it's somebody who's like maybe called us out on some language, we should change. For example these are folks who want us to succeed and have access sometimes to a perspective that we haven't assumed or to knowledge that we haven't acquired.
And so if you start from a place of loving your critics, then you might be able to hear them. And when you can hear them, you can learn. So by contrast, if you're the type of person who just like, can't take criticism at all and you retreat into this quasi childish defensive stance, like, Oh, how dare you?
I'm a good person and you shouldn't give me any suggestions. I don't know, one voice I'm doing good. It's really bad. I flipped into a voice of some kind. It doesn't make any sense. But if that sounds like you, then like you should reevaluate. And learn to love your critics because these are complicated issues.
They involve things that you know, maybe we've absorbed from our culture or that we, you know, problematic things that we learned growing up that we now want to change. That's tough work, and it requires us to actually be tough when we're hearing criticism. So just. Take a beat. When someone tells you can do something a little bit better and love your critics.
Because they're the best friends you have. I love that. And I'm sure Andrew's going to say something similar, but as an English major through college, that is definitely some advice that I've picked up at some point it's like, not everybody loves my writing, but that's okay because I'm learning a lot from what they say.
So that's thank you for sharing that. It's a totally different lens than my, obviously my English degree, but very valuable, nonetheless. Yeah, it's a great parallel, right? I mean, I need an editor when I write, like we all, we all need that. And I think that if we come to approach it in just that way you know that there's a lot of opportunity for growth there.
Yeah, absolutely. There's, there's a lot of value in being called out. So I thank you so much for sharing that Sam. So that's a wrap for today. Thank you all so much for joining us this week. And thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for having me. Next week. We interview another member of the WVU community.