|MSU Texas Title IX program focused on awareness, prevention and helping students|
By Andy Newberry, MSU Texas
As a deputy county attorney with the Pima County Attorney’s office in Tucson, Arizona, Rachael Fornof spent three years prosecuting cases involving domestic violence. Even among the most difficult of those cases, Rachael knew that she had the ability to make a difference in the lives of the residents of Pima County.
Back then her introduction to the women, children, and families would come after an incident had occurred. In 2018 she joined Midwestern State University as the director and coordinator of Title IX, opening her mind to a new challenge. What she has found in her first year on campus is a student body anxious to embrace change and a university determined to increase awareness of issues related to sexual misconduct.
“It’s been really nice to see that the campus is open to new programs and new incentives related to sexual misconduct,” Fornof said. “It’s not always a topic that people want to talk about. But we have students, staff and faculty who are ready and willing to participate in the conversation, which has been really refreshing.”
Moving to Texas was a new experience for her and so was the Title IX position, but her positive outlook about the youth of today has only been reinforced over the past year on campus at MSU.
“I truly believe that young people are the only way we’re going to get through the future,” Fornof said. “They have such a positive outlook. They’re so hopeful and willing to make change and they want it to happen. They’re learning that maybe the things they were taught in the media or things they have been taught in movies might not be true. They look at things differently especially when it comes to consent.”
BEING AN ALLY
One major goal for Fornof was increased awareness of the subject matter and that her office is a resource and ally for students. She believes there was success after many conversations with students, both individually and in groups.
“Think About It”, an online course all students must take, has helped along with other events like “No Zebras”, a program to maximize cooperation and minimize survivor trauma, and “We End Violence” by Jeffrey Bucholtz. However, Fornof wants to make sure those campaigns don’t stop when the event is over.
“There has to be a consistency,” she said. “What I tried to do was pull things from the course into live programming. We did one in the fall and one in the spring. The students don’t just want to see me coming to talk about the same thing all the time, too.”
For Fornof it was important that students to recognize her on campus. The Title IX position is separate from faculty and Fornof appreciates that independence.
“I’ve had a ton of support around campus and specifically, students who are really involved and excited,” Fornof said. “It’s nice I can interact with them outside of the classroom. I think based on feedback I’ve received from students, and hearing colleagues talk about what they’ve heard, they’re seeing me as someone who is speaking up for their needs. When they have potential bad things happen to them at least they know the university is here to back them up and give them support.”
In April, Fornof introduced “Take Back The Night,” a vigil and campus walk for victims of sexual violence. “We had probably 150 people show up to do the walk in the first year of the program. And we had about 250 people show up for the program itself. It was nice to see how many people were there.”
While Fornof considers her first year a success, she wants to continue to raise awareness, have consistent messaging and application, and be a guiding light for students in a difficult area.
“We did surface-level messaging,” Fornof said. “Talking about consent and talking about basic relationships and human interaction. It’s important that all of our students feel they are safe on this campus. When a student makes a report, we want them to know they are supported. This next year I want to establish consistency in programming.”
Much of her time is also spent on prevention, a part of this job she relishes after being on the other side as a prosecutor.
“Working as a prosecutor I worked with people when it had already occurred, and a huge part of my job is dealing with cases when they come into the Title IX office and conducting the investigations. But I’ve been able to spend a lot of time this year doing preventative programming,” Fornof said. “That’s been really nice. Everyone’s goal is prevention.”
She’s encouraged by her interaction with MSU Texas students with 1-on-1 meetings and participation in group setting increasing because of word of mouth advertising. “I met with members of three or four fraternities and sat with them for about an hour and we had really good conversations.” Fornof felt the students felt open to ask her questions maybe they wouldn’t typically ask a staff member and was glad to be there as a resource.
Fornof hopes that leads to more sessions where she can provide MSU Texas students with information and preventative measures. And at the same time be there to investigate if there is an incident. “Students should feel that they can take ownership of their safety with the support of the administration and faculty,” Fornof said.
The Title IX resource center online is msutexas.edu/titleix for campus information plus community resources and an online report form.
The MSU Vinson Health Center number is 940-397-4231; the MSU Counseling Center is 940-397-4618; and the MSU Police Department is 940-397-4239.
Photo credit: Bradley Wilson