The third of three articles in an investigative series on sexual assault at Cal Poly and the university’s response. To view the full series, go here.
After physics junior Juliet Tate was assaulted, she spent multiple hours on a six page Title IX report. She detailed each instance and conversation, reliving them as she penned the details. Eventually, Tate gave up.
When she met with the Title IX Office and completed an Initial Resolution Agreement, a preliminary agreement between two parties involved. Yet, the results were less than what she hoped for – awareness training was not part of the resolution.
Instead of moving forward with a case, Tate decided to give up; she said a professor told her that it would be a “waste of time” to contact the office again. Tate’s not alone.
“I felt a lot of hopelessness and that feeling like the school won’t support me,” Tate said. “Like, this is going to be f—ing hard.”
Mustang News obtained Title IX investigation documents and emails, in addition to the number of reports filed since 2015. Documentation indicates an increase in Title IX reports the past seven years, though the university says this is a sign of more student awareness.
Cal Poly received 519 Title IX reports from July 2015 to October 2020, and another 382 reports from July 2021 to June 2022. The categories for reports changed in 2021, including more specific data on the type of misconduct that the Title IX Office was investigating.
There were 47 open reported matters as of June 30, 2022 which pertain to multiple forms of sexual-based violence. This amount is the highest it has been over the past seven years: From 2019 to 2020 there were eight reports pending investigation.
“I am first to agree the hurt and impact may not be policy violation by law,” Cal Poly Title IX Coordinator Maren Hufton said of the Title IX process. “We know it’s really hard for people involved.”
From 2018 to 2019, only one investigated report was resolved through an investigation, including retribution for the respondent according to Title IX documents obtained by a records request. Other reports led to litigation, remand and more.
Resolving a case depends on how much evidence is available and how the respondent and defendant are involved in the investigation. Many cases were either resolved without an investigation or were considered to not have enough evidence, footnotes explain.
From November to January 2022, Tate lived in her Honda CR-V after reckoning with multiple rapes she experienced. Living in the car was a “last resort” for Tate, who also didn’t feel support from her roommates at the time.
The car itself was symbolic of another negative experience for Tate, as she was sexually assaulted by a different person in this car.
“I think when I help people and I talk to people, I'm a survivor, but when it's me and my friends or me myself, I feel like a victim, you know?” Tate said.
The university can conduct an investigation into a report – as long as the person is attending Cal Poly or employed at Cal Poly.
A CSU-wide Title IX assessment was initiated in June 2022 after Fresno State University’s Frank Lamas was accused of sexual harassment.
“We are still concluding our information gathering and synthesis, and look forward to providing more information about our observations and recommendations in the coming months,” Devon Riley from the Cozen O’Connor Law Firm told Mustang News through email.
Tate feels that the current system in place does not support those who have experienced sexual violence, with her dealing with the aftermath.
“Even if it's not my fault, I'm the one that has to pick up the pieces,” Tate said. “Only other survivors really can understand that feeling.”
Psychology alumna Leia O’Brian’s Title IX process took 11 months to complete. At the end of the process, she still feels that the sanctions did not provide real world consequences for her assailant.
The Title IX Office found that her experience constituted as sexual assault as she never gave affirmative consent, investigation documents show. Her assailant’s degree was suspended for two quarters. In order for a suspension to appear on a student’s transcript a suspension must be a year or longer according to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
She reported the assault the same month it occurred and her hearing was set nine months later, in February. O’Brian received a decision letter on March 28, with her perpetrator’s degree suspended for two quarters since they had already graduated.
Through the reporting process, she created an art project which described how she was feeling: a figure curled up and facing the floor, with slashes around it. To O’Brian, the figure represented how she felt at the time, “fragile, broken and torn [apart].”
Two weeks after her assault, O’Brian was unable to be in her bed where the assault happened. Instead, she slept on her couch or at a friend’s place on one occasion. She felt empowered to report what happened, though found some parts of the process less helpful.
O’Brian’s perpetrator was found guilty in a hearing last February. More than a month later, she received an email outlining the sanctions for his punishment.
Both the complainant and respondent are required by law to have the opportunity to appeal claims. O’Brian’s trial took three rounds, including evidence from her assault and the defense lawyer sending 25 questions to her from the initial report.
O’Brian felt that some of the questions she was asked during the hearing were “patronizing,” while others concerning where she had been after the assault were aimed to “poke holes” in her story.
The Title IX process involves the complainant and respondent. By law, an advocate is required to work with the complainant and talk through their experiences. Then, a list of remedies are agreed upon that address the issues presented without pursuing legal action.
Remedies are decided upon when the investigator finds that the respondent was found guilty.
Looking back on her experience, O’Brian said she is glad that the person was found guilty, but wishes that more changes came out of the process overall. She wishes that her perpetrator would have received restorative justice, or more substantial change. Above all, she wishes that the Title IX system would change to protect other survivors.
She attended her hearing from an office in the Safer building because she did not want her perpetrator to see her room or associate the hearing with her own space. As soon as the hearing finished, O’Brian walked to an uphill grassy area near the Health Center to play a song she had wrote, called “Reckoning.”
The song captured the empowerment she felt after the hearing.
“Did you really just blame it on your head, what you did in my bed?” O’Brian sang while playing her guitar.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be a reckoning, ‘cause you were never going to admit you did anything wrong. Unless someone like me put you in your place with a Title IX hearing and song.”