By Laurel O’Keefe and Katie Krahulik
NEWS EDITOR / ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
Hofstra’s former Title IX Coordinator Lara Nochomovitz resigned from her position in March after her title was officially changed in February from Title IX Coordinator to Title IX Officer for Student Issues. Nochomovitz was replaced by Allison Vernace, the former Coordinator for Student Success and Title IX Initiatives. Student Affairs officials assured concerned students that the new title did not bring about a change in Nochomovitz’s duties as a Title IX deputy, which were limited to resolving only student-to-student sexual discrimination and misconduct issues.
“This position has always only had responsibility in handling student-to-student issues and training responsibilities,” said Colin Sullivan, the director of Communications for Student Affairs.
During an investigation of this transition, The Chronicle found documents that suggest Nochomovitz was able to assist in resolving matters involving student-to-employee conflicts. In addition, the Title IX officer’s office was relocated from Roosevelt Hall to Phillips Hall, among the Student Affairs offices. Students were not informed of the title change until two months later, when an email was sent from Student Affairs introducing Vernace as the interim officer on Friday, April 14. This transition caused confusion and concern on campus.
It is stated in the 2016-2017 Student Policy Prohibiting Discriminatory Harassment, Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct that, “The Coordinator also serves as a Harassment Advisor under the University’s Harassment Policy and is available to meet with students.”
Working under the policy, it is outlined that she “may assist the parties in resolving a complaint informally without the need to file a formal complaint.”
In an email, Sullivan said “The harassment policy applies to student/employee matters which has always been overseen by the Director of Human Resources.”
Any allegations involving athletic employees are handled by the Title IX deputy for athletics.
Today, the Hofstra Title IX website does not explicitly state that the Title IX Officer for Student Issues serves as a Harassment Advisor. Instead, it states “The Title IX Officer for Student Issues is also responsible for referring any reports of Sexual Harassment, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Stalking and Sexual Misconduct against employees or other nonstudents to the Human Resources Director, who serves as the Title IX Officer for Employee Matters.”
While Student Affairs launches a search for a new fulltime Title IX Officer for Student Issues, Vernace took over the position temporarily, directly after Nochomovitz resigned to maintain constant student access to Title IX services.
Students were not informed of the title change at the time, nor were they informed of the prior Title IX Coordinator’s resignation and replacement. It was not until student organizations started asking questions as to whether Hofstra still had a Title IX Coordinator, that the Division of Student Affairs sent an email informing students of the changes, two months after the fact.
“I thought that students would be told when we got the new coordinator, but we never were. There was a lot of confusion in the activist circle that I am in,” said Natasha Rappazzo, the president of Campus Feminist Collective (CFC). She was first informed by a member of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County that there would be a new Title IX Coordinator at Hofstra. As this was news to her as the president of an activist group on campus, she grew uneasy.
In regards to the change in title, Vice President for Student Affairs W. Houston Dougharty explained Student Affairs found that after two years, the title adjustment was necessary in order to clarify Nochomovitz’s role.
“What became really evident was that there were people at the university wanting Lara in her position to work with students to be addressing Title IX stuff all over campus,” Dougharty said.
“There are already people who have that responsibility in Human Resources and athletics in our legal affairs office. So, it became clear that we needed to clarify her role so that folks knew that she was the person for student issues.”
Dougharty said that Student Affairs was, “Not doing anything to change her responsibilities other than to clarify to everybody that she was the ‘student’ person.”
The following month, Nochomovitz resigned. Dougharty said, “She took another job as far as I know.”
According to Sullivan, the former coordinator left the university “to pursue her career elsewhere.”
“She had come to us from a practice space as an attorney and she returned to such, and this is something that Lara had shared. She went back to her family. She’s not from the area, and now she’s back with the crew,” Sullivan said.
As this information was also not publicized to students in areas other than the website, confusion was sparked. The lack of clarity on the transition disoriented students so much so that several groups created a petition demanding that Hofstra provides the university with a Title IX Coordinator, unaware that the position was never left vacant.
“I’m frustrated because students deserve transparency, especially given the nature of Title IX,” said Sarah Puckett, a sophomore television production and global studies major who is also the public relations chair of CFC and a member of Peace Action Matters.
According to Dougharty, the job would not be different, and thus Student Affairs felt at that time, no announcement would be necessary.
“There was no intent to try and keep any information from anybody. What we were thinking was if folks need to reach out to the Title IX person in Student Affairs, they’re still going to be able to do that through all the ways they’ve always done it. There wasn’t ever a gap in time when they could do that,” Dougharty said.
“People weren’t reaching out to a name; they were reaching out to a position,” he said. Dougharty further explained the department’s logic behind the title change.
“We were always trying to figure out what’s the best way, number one, for students to know that this is the person that they can see as their go-to person, but also, so that the workload is appropriate for this person because it’s a big job. We hadn’t hired [Nochomovitz] to be responsible for athletic issues or employee issues,” Dougharty said.
Sullivan later said in an email, “The title change has nothing to do with the work load. The position and responsibilities never changed. Only the title. The title “Title IX Coordinator” implies more than the position is and was overseeing, so the new title clarified the role more accurately. This position has always only had responsibility in handling student to student issues and training responsibilities.”
Unlike Nochomovitz, Vernace does not have a legal background but does have a master’s in social work. Regarding her new position, Vernace said, “It’s already work that I was involved in prior to this. Before this I was involved in being the co-chair on the It’s On Us Committee. I am still the co-chair of the It’s On Us Committee, but the title did not change that involvement or influence it any more than it already was in what I was doing.”
Amid one of Hofstra’s most prevalent weeks for sexual assault and harassment awareness, students were thrown into disarray and sought out an explanation. This past week, Students Advocates of Safer Sex (SASS) hosted The Clothesline Project, which is defined by the Office for Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE) website in the Hofstra portal as a way to take “staggering, mind-numbing statistics and turn them into a provocative, ‘in-your-face’ educational and healing tool.” In addition to that, CFC, Collegiate Women of Color and SASS hosted Take Back the Night on Friday, April 14, an event that features a sexual assault speak out requiring safe rooms and counselors from the Joan and Arnold Saltzman Community Services Center.
Rappazzo said, “… it disappoints me that we had to repeatedly ask for the basic Title IX information and that it took our group of activists to get one email out explaining the situation to the students. As a student, it is scary. It makes me wonder what else Hofstra is hiding from us that we need to go out and find for ourselves, but as an activist I feel proud that we were able to get the school to work with us and tell us the truth, hopefully. I want them to know that we will keep fighting as long as we have to in order to keep the school working for the students, not the donors.”