Q&A with Title IX Coordinator Kerri Thompson Tillett

Tillett addresses items she hopes to accomplish in her position

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Chloe Adams, Collegian Contributor

After beginning her role as associate vice chancellor for equal opportunity in May, Kerri Thompson Tillett has even become the new Title IX coordinator at the University of Massachusetts. The role fights gender and sex-based discrimination on campus.

Tillett spoke to the Collegian about what she hopes to accomplish in this position and how the Title IX team is working to support students on campus in need of these services.

Chloe Adams: Can you provide some background about yourself, along with what led you to joining the Title IX team?

Kerri Thompson Tillett: My experiences in college left a deep impression on me. There were times when I simply did not feel like I fit in. This experience was my inspiration to work towards creating working and learning environments where people can feel comfortable being themselves. My work in the Title IX space is an extension of that commitment.

CA: What does Title IX intend to do for students?

KTT: Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based upon sex in education programs and activities. The purpose is to protect students from, for example, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. It also prohibits discrimination based upon pregnancy.

CA: How do these services help UMass students?

KTT: Our team of intake coordinators and investigators are compassionate and committed to providing student-centered support when students report that they are the victims of a Title IX violation. Our first priority is to connect the survivor to supportive resources such as Center for Women and Community or Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. Other resources could include adjustments to housing assignments, academic flexibility, no contact directives or assistance in seeking a court-issued protective order.

CA: What do you hope to accomplish now as the new Title IX coordinator that may not have been achieved in the past?

KTT: My priority is for our team to develop trusting relationships with students so that the campus community can feel comfortable reporting Title IX violations to our office. When these matters are reported to us, it will help bring a level of accountability to those who commit these acts.

CA: What are your responsibilities in this position?

KTT: My role as associate vice chancellor is to lead the Office of Equal Opportunity whose purpose is to investigate matters of discrimination, harassment and related retaliation. This may include investigating complaints of discrimination based upon, for example, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation and national origin.

CA: How has the Title IX team been addressing ongoing Theta Chi concerns?

KTT: We are taking a two-pronged approach, one public and one private, to the reports involving Greek Life organizations. Publicly, we’re having ongoing discussions with Greek Life organizations, attending programming, providing consultations and being available to the campus. Our work is also private and confidential to meet the needs of individuals. It’s important to note that these ongoing concerns involve students and student groups, and we’re mindful of our obligations under federal and state law and policy. We review publicly known information that we need to be aware of, especially as it relates to safety and our legal obligations. At the same time, we’re reviewing, assessing and following up on reports made directly to the Equal Opportunity Office regarding specific incidents. This requires us to maintain privacy and confidentiality to protect the integrity of equal opportunity inquiries or investigations.

CA: How will you be using Title IX to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination on campus?

KTT: Title IX is the federal law that requires university spaces to be free from gender-based discrimination. We encourage students, faculty and staff to report Title IX allegations to our office.

CA: Will the team be working to make Title IX more understandable on campus for students who may not fully understand their rights under Title IX?

KTT: Absolutely. Initiatives that we hope will bring a deeper understanding of Title IX to our community are a new Title IX website, a Title IX Student Advisory Task Force, the Survivor’s Bill of Rights, streamlined reporting options and the delivery of a sexual assault survey in the spring semester. In addition to these initiatives, I hope that the Title IX Student Advisory Task Force will help me learn exactly what our students need to better understand under Title IX.

Chloe Adams can be reached at [email protected]