Cal Poly Humboldt President Tom Jackson Jr. sent out a personal message to the campus community this morning apologizing for comments he made about Title IX investigations during his fall welcome address that some felt were misinformed at best or at worst an overt attempt to silence survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
The message came via email to all students and staff with a separate letter to the campus community regarding Title IX signed by the presidents of Associated Students and the Staff Council, the chair of the University Senate and Jackson. That letter touts the campus' efforts to better comply with Title IX despite "significant past inertia and historical challenges." In his personal message, Jackson apologizes for failing to properly articulate his "true message of support" for those who have experienced harm on campus.
"I have heard from many students, staff, and faculty that my choice of words during the Fall Welcome presentation was heard and perceived differently than I intended," Jackson wrote. "My goal had been to illustrate the complexity of laws and policies regarding confidentiality and privacy, and to stress that the campus was obligated to abide by these laws and policies while managing Title IX investigations. I referred to these as 'secrets' and I now understand that many who have been harmed by the misconduct of others heard this as my not caring or as the campus seeking to hide these incidents to protect its image. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Jackson went on to say that he's spent his entire career in higher education and worked diligently to "ensure campuses are supportive and function as positive communities."
"That said, I failed in articulating my true message of support, and because of that, I am sorry," Jackson wrote. "I want everyone on our campus to thrive, to feel supported, and to know that I care about you and your University cares about you."
Jackson's comments on Title IX during the Aug. 17 welcome address — which were part of the focus of the Journal's Oct. 27 story "Jadence Clifton Comes Forward" — drew sharp criticism from advocates for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse, and even some survivors on campus.
In his remarks, Jackson referred to Cal Poly Humboldt as "a campus filled with secrets" and seemed to suggest it was in the campus' best interest — and the intent of Title IX — to keep the secrets out of public view.
"Remember," he said during the address, "Title IX was designed to be private, confidential, to solve a problem between individuals — not meant to be public and scrutinized in the national media. That is not what it was designed for. Imagine the ramification if you had a complaint made against you and it was played out in the national media .... It's troublesome, particularly when you were seeking relief on a private, confidential matter. You didn't want the rest of us to know it. Otherwise, you'd just publicize it. You see the difference? You don't need Title IX to tell the world that there's a conflict. Title IX is designed to solve it behind the doors in a meaningful, amicable way."
He continued, "We certainly have individuals that do things they shouldn't, there's no question about that. But I'm saying it also that, as we scrutinize each other, let's recognize that today we may be scrutinizing someone but tomorrow that someone may be us. And the [Title IX] process is designed to be behind the door so that we can resolve it for the individuals that are involved, not to celebrate it or promote it or use it for personal gain later on. ... I hate being in the news because we have so many positive things happening on our campus. And each time we take a nip at our university, it is read by the very students and parents we want to come to this university. So we're shooting ourselves in the foot."
Laura Dunn, founding partner of the LL Dunn Law Firm in Washington, D.C., and a nationally renowned expert on Title IX, told the Journal Jackson's comments were both "completely erroneous" and "very disturbing," explaining the landmark law was aimed to end institutional discrimination, not keep allegations private, noting that the Clery Act specifically prohibits schools from "gagging survivors."
"In my opinion, this man is not qualified for leadership in higher education," she said. "He is literally advocating that they keep stuff like this under the rug, openly and unapologetically. He should be removed from his position."
Sophie Effa, a graduate student in counseling psychology at Cal Poly Humboldt who has worked with the university's student-led program promoting consent culture, similarly found Jackson's comments problematic, saying it sounded like he was "more concerned with protecting perpetrators on campus" than sexual assault survivors.
"It sounded like he was sympathizing with perpetrators, not saying anything about survivors' experience, not sympathizing with them," she said. "Imagine being in that room and hearing that message from the president of Cal Poly Humboldt and being a survivor."
Jadence Clifton was no longer on campus when she heard Jackson's comments, having transferred to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco after she grew frustrated with how the university had handled her report that she'd been sexually battered during a women's basketball practice last year. But she said Jackson's comments stung.
"It was crazy," she said. "I felt like he was speaking to me. ... I mean, I stayed a whole year being silent. I played the season. I kept it quiet. And when I did come out to Title IX and the university police, nothing happened. So, of course I want to be heard. I don't want this to happen to any other girl."
Accompanying Jackson's apology in the campus wide email this morning, a letter co-signed by Associated Students President Juan Guerrero, Staff Council President Janessa Woolley, University Senate Chair Monty Mola and Jackson details the university's efforts to improve its Title IX investigation process.
"We write to you in the humble and heartfelt hope that we can meaningfully address concerns we have heard and that we can enlist your participation in continuing to create a more positive and supportive culture on our campus," the letter states. "We know that Humboldt, at its best, embraces both students and employees and changes lives for the better. We also know there is much work to do to ensure that all members of our community have a positive experience."
The letter notes the university has increased staffing in its Title IX Office from one person to three in recent years, and has followed expert recommendations to change its investigative process.
"We will soon be adding additional staffing in the Title IX Office to ensure we can continue to be supportive and responsive when incidents and complaints are brought to our attention," the letter notes, adding that it strives to "provide impactful outcomes."
The letter also requests "patience, understanding and grace" for those on campus working daily on these efforts.
"They are working to overcome significant past inertia and historical challenges," the letter states. "Even with the additional staffing and resources recently committed, this work takes substantial time to resolve. In our aggressive efforts to hold people accountable, we must be careful to follow the guiding laws, policies and procedures. Not doing so is to only unfair to all involved but can result in diminishing the credibility of our systems and actions."
The letter, a copy of which is copied below, includes contact information for reporting Title IX violations, as well as several support organizations.
Personal Message from President Jackson
Students and Colleagues,
I have heard from many students, staff, and faculty that my choice of words during the Fall Welcome presentation was heard and perceived differently than I intended. My goal had been to illustrate the complexity of laws and policies regarding confidentiality and privacy, and to stress that the campus was obligated to abide by these laws and policies while managing Title IX investigations. I referred to these as “secrets” and I now understand that many who have been harmed by the misconduct of others heard this as my not caring or as the campus seeking to hide these incidents to protect its image. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have spent my entire career in higher education focused on the healthy development of students and worked diligently to ensure campuses are supportive and function as positive communities. That said, I failed in articulating my true message of support, and because of that, I am sorry. I want everyone on our campus to thrive, to feel supported, and to know that I care about you and your University cares about you.
- President Tom Jackson, Jr.
Open Letter from Campus Leaders
Dear Cal Poly Humboldt Community,
We write to you in the humble and heartfelt hope that we can meaningfully address concerns we have heard and that we can enlist your participation in continuing to create a more positive and supportive culture on our campus. We know that Humboldt, at its best, embraces both students and employees and changes lives for the better. We also know there is much work to do to ensure that all members of our community have a positive experience.
We want a campus where people thrive. A campus that is safe and embraces diversity of people and ideas. A campus free of retaliation, crime and sexualized violence. A campus that genuinely supports each other, particularly when most in need. We want a campus that reflects the best in each of us.
Humboldt has made positive strides in recent years in addressing challenges related to misconduct by employees and students. In particular, we have increased staffing from one person to three in our Title IX Office, and we have also made changes to investigation processes, as recommended by experts. We will soon be adding additional staffing in the Title IX office to ensure we can continue to be supportive and responsive when incidents and complaints are brought to our attention. The University offers several areas of support to assist survivors, and we recognize there is more work to be done to improve our support structure.
Recent news coverage has raised questions about how the campus responds to reports of misconduct, including those that may be handled through the Title IX process. Like all campuses, we often have Title IX and other misconduct investigations underway. Investigations begin when reports are made; as a result, those who have been harmed are provided various types of support based on their preferences. Investigations are carried out, findings are made, and corrective actions are taken. We strive to provide impactful outcomes.
We encourage a level of patience, understanding and grace for those on campus who are charged with the daily implementation of these efforts. They are working to overcome significant past inertia and historical challenges. Even with the additional staffing and resources recently committed, this work takes substantial time to resolve. In our aggressive efforts to hold people accountable, we must be careful to follow the guiding laws, policies, and procedures. Not doing so is not only unfair to all involved but can result in diminishing the credibility of our systems and actions.
In these efforts, there are difficult questions that we need to work through together. For example: What does it mean to become a “survivor-centered” campus? And, how do we achieve that? Are we sure that we are offering enough support and guidance to those who are reporting misconduct? Are our prevention and educational outreach programs sufficient and effective enough? How can we as a campus evaluate the effectiveness and judgments that occur within these confidential processes? How do we eliminate personal biases to not influence investigations and outcomes? How do we ensure that those who report harm or are part of an investigation feel safe from retaliation? How do we measure whether we, as a campus, are making progress in creating a safer and more inclusive community? How do we continually improve the process?
Cal Poly Humboldt will soon have a campus visit from the group that is conducting a California State University (CSU) systemwide assessment of Title IX with the goal of advancing Title IX practices and other civil rights training, awareness, prevention, intervention, compliance, accountability, and support systems. They will gather a great deal of data and documentation as they develop recommendations for the CSU. We encourage you to participate as you are able to share your perspectives and thoughts. We welcome their recommendations and are committed to openly sharing information and dedicating the resources necessary to continuously improve our support programs and investigative practices.
We know our campus faces challenges. Every instance of unprofessional conduct, bullying, and lack of collegiality erodes our community and diminishes the experience of being a student or member of our University. Conversely, each time we prevent or successfully confront these behaviors, we become stronger together.
Any member of the campus community who would like to report a Title IX violation or seek support can contact the Title IX Office at 707-826-5177 or:
File a report online at this link: https://hsu.link/TitleIXReport
Complete this Formal Complaint Form and email to the Title IX and DHR Prevention Office: https://hsu.link/TitleIXFormalComplaint
Some may feel more comfortable talking with a confidential resource about what they have experienced. Below is a list of people and services that are considered privileged reporters.
Campus Advocate Team (CAT)
24-Hour Hotline: (707) 445-2881
Campus Advocate Team Website
North Coast Rape Crisis Team
24-Hour hotline: (707) 445-2881
We are committed to doing the work, with integrity and compassion. It is our sincere hope that the campus community will support and affirm the spirit and content of this letter, further confirming that we all desire to sustain a positive and supportive learning community.
President, Associated Students
President, Staff Council
Professor of Physics
President, General Faculty
Chair, University Senate