September 6, 2023 : By Office of Communications & Public Engagement
As Liberty University’s Office of Equity and Compliance (OEC) welcomed students back to campus this fall, the planning and preparation has focused on a continuation of successful current campuswide initiatives as well as improved efforts to keep the Liberty community safe, aware, and well-informed.
The OEC plays a vital role in supporting student success. The office is responsible for administering compliance with the university’s Sexual Misconduct/Title IX Policy, the Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity Policy, and the Jeanne Clery Act, which includes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Recruiting qualified, experienced, and intentional staff members who are passionate about their work in serving the student body has been at the forefront of the office’s efforts. Earlier this year, the OEC welcomed a new Title IX coordinator, Nathan Friesema, who came to Liberty after working in residence life departments at other universities, as well as three new investigators. Last spring, the office moved to its new location in DeMoss Hall 1232, in an area of main campus readily accessible to students. The office now consists of six investigators, three Clery officers, a case manager, and an education team that communicates the office’s purpose and policies to students in addition to training students and staff. Three of the investigators come from a law enforcement background, and the other staff members bring experience in student services, broadcasting, and legal affairs.
“Our tagline is ‘Safe, Supportive, Neutral,’ and that’s directed at the students to let them know that it’s a safe place to talk about our policies,” said investigator Dave Sparnroft, who joined the OEC in March after working in law enforcement. “Sexual misconduct, nondiscrimination, and the other issues we help with are very delicate topics, and for the people who are facing that it can be traumatic, so we want them to know that this is a safe space to talk about it and that we’re here to support them and remain neutral through the process. Like everyone else who works at Liberty, we are here to help our students be successful in college and succeed in their careers out in the world.”
Clery officer Christopher Shirley, a former police officer, said his role is to make sure that the university is complying federally with the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, support victims of violence, and publicly outline the policies and procedures they have put into place to improve campus safety.
“Our purpose is providing transparency to crimes and major incidents that happen on campus or the surrounding area, and we make sure that reports are read and classified correctly so that our statistics are accurate,” Shirley said.
Friesema and his staff said they are constantly working to educate students on the resources available to them and the ease of process for reporting to their office.
They also aim to dispel misconceptions, such as the idea that reporting to the Title IX office subjects students to citations for violating The Liberty Way (Liberty’s student conduct policy). The office gives students amnesty to provide the full truth in reports.
“They should not feel held back from reporting anything out of fear of those repercussions,” Sparnroft said. “Title IX exists to keep students safe and give students and their parents peace of mind in knowing that they are safe and are being taken care of.”
Title IX investigators are separate entities from the Liberty University Police Department (LUPD), meaning that students filing a report are not pushed into pressing charges if they do not wish to.
“We continue to market our office and the services we provide to students in terms of supportive measures and resources, but also the ability to have your complaints or concerns addressed,” Friesema said. “Whether or not students want to work with the police, our office has a process available to them that seeks justice, restitution, or restoration. We want to be able to provide students the safe campus that they deserve.”
The investigators who have law enforcement experience are still able to apply their training in helpful ways.
“Our previous experience in law enforcement has helped us sharpen our investigative skills and inform the questions that we know to ask, and it also gives us a caring approach when talking to people who are in crisis,” investigator Brittany Hall said. “We’ve all had crisis intervention training, and that’s an important piece of it too.”
This year, the OEC has continued its “Speak Up” campaign that encourages students to do exactly that — speak up when they experience or witness behavior or misconduct that potentially violates Title IX policies. “Speak Up” signs with contact information for the office are posted throughout campus on doors in residence halls, television screens, campus buses, and many other visible locations.
Even if someone presents an issue that is not applicable to OEC, Hall explained, the staff will help point people in the right direction. In the end, she said filing a report that does not end up in a Title IX case is better than not reporting at all.
“We want to encourage people to err on the side of caution and report and come talk to us. Even if it doesn’t necessarily fit into what our office does, we can help point people in the right direction. We would rather report and not have anything come from it than have someone not report it and have (violations) continue.”
Members of the OEC education team met with students at the Block Party on Aug. 26, at the end of the first full week of classes. They also maintain a presence on Facebook and Instagram to keep students and the Liberty community informed on current policies and news regarding Title IX.
To learn more about the Office of Equity and Compliance, visit Liberty.edu/Title-IX.