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Internal Conflicts of Housing and Residential Education: RAs Report Title IX Violations

Multiple female RAs say they reported violations of policy and sexual harassment to HRE leadership, but no action was taken.
Kahlert+Village+at+the+University+of+Utah+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Dec.+3%2C+2021+%28Photo+by+Emily+Rincon%C2%A0%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Emily Rincon
Kahlert Village at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Dec. 3, 2021 (Photo by Emily Rincon | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Resident Advisors in the University of Utah’s Housing and Residential Education department are the go-to staff when residents experience issues. Many of these RAs, however, feel as though their resident directors haven’t been there to help them mitigate their own troubles.

Reportedly, in 2022 multiple female RAs experienced sexual harassment within their roles from fellow RAs, in addition to direct violations of the HRE consensual relationship policy. All Title IX-related matters were reported to the appropriate resident directors by said RAs, but they failed to adhere to the policy. Rather, the RAs were left to handle these situations independently, said the RAs, which resulted in many wanting to terminate their positions after feeling a lack of support from HRE. Additionally, many reported fearing being fired if they showed any concern over how they had been treated, either by coworkers or supervisors.

The Consensual Relationship Policy

HRE consists of “eight resident directors, one general manager and 163 student leaders — 107 of which are resident advisors,” according to Ana Belmonte, the associate director of communications and assessment for HRE.

Due to the large number of HRE employees, every staff member is thoroughly trained on emergency response protocol, student conduct, Title IX and sexual assault training — among other items — prior to assuming their roles. Additionally, every RA must sign an employment contract that specifically states the consensual relationship policy.

All RAs must adhere to this policy, which is based on University of Utah policy 1-020: The “required professional boundaries in relationships” policy. If any RA has been or is currently in a relationship with another RA they must disclose that information to their supervisor, as they are not permitted to live in the same residential area. A failure to notify HRE about the relationship could lead to the termination of the student leader(s).

In response to the consensual relationship policy, in June 2022 RA London Ellis reported her relationship with a fellow RA to HRE in order to have one of them moved from the residential area. Ellis was hired under Resident Director Tyler Bacon, who she met with early on in her employment. She told him she had reported the relationship to HRE but had not heard back.

“Maybe a week or two goes by and he pulls me aside after the staff meeting and he goes, ‘So housing decided that we’re probably not going to move either of you, but I need you to send me an email saying that you were okay with this,'” Ellis said. “I was not okay with this … [but] I didn’t want to lose my job. I very actively was not okay with living in the area with a guy who I’ve been dating.”

Both RAs involved feared being fired over the situation, and Ellis explained that it negatively impacted the relationship. Ellis felt pressure from both sides and as if there was no solution to the problem. Due to the lack of help from Bacon, she didn’t feel like she could turn to him to help her with the issue, and instead felt that she would be reprimanded and potentially fired.

“When your job is housing, that scares you. I would rather be in an abusive situation with this man than fired from a job where I could lose my housing and food,” Ellis said. “He constantly got back together and ended things [with me] and we fought a lot and sometimes he would abuse his RA privileges to force me into conversations during rounds.”

When asked about the situation, Bacon wrote, “In cases such as these, I follow department protocols and consult with my supervisor. When we have situations like this, we consider all aspects of the situation and make an informed decision based on all parties involved.”

The consensual relationship policy was written to protect both individuals from the abuse of RA privileges in a relationship, as well as to deter a potentially uncomfortable and unsafe living environment. Bacon met with both RAs, but did not diffuse the situation. Rather, Ellis claimed, he yelled at her both in private and in a group.

Upon handling the situation she felt as though HRE had failed her. Even though Ellis didn’t express the full magnitude of the problem to HRE to avoid speaking against her partner, she did expand upon a number of concerns and stated that they were in a serious relationship.

“That should have been enough for them, but apparently it wasn’t, because I got told ‘no.’ And I got told specifically to email them that I was comfortable with something I was not comfortable [with],” Ellis said.

Title IX Violations

Many others experienced issues when reporting inappropriate behavior, specifically sexual harassment, at the hands of a fellow RA. In November 2022, multiple female RAs reported that they experienced sexual harassment from one of their male peers in HRE after employees exchanged phone numbers. The male RA was a senior who had worked for HRE for multiple years and made advances on a number of girls that caused them to state being uncomfortable.

Taylor Baker, who was the youngest RA in her area as a sophomore, was one of the girls approached by her coworker. Initially, she believed him to be intoxicated when he messaged her at 1 a.m.

“I assumed he was drunk. … I know it wouldn’t be the first time that he made advances towards one of the RAs in our area while intoxicated,” Baker said.

An additional RA experienced similar harassment, but when it was reported to Bacon, also her resident director, she stated feeling a lack of support. Due to employment status, she has been granted anonymity and will be referred to as Student A. 

“[Bacon] said ‘We’re almost done with this semester’ [and that] he’s ‘Graduating after this, so unless you tell me that you’re uncomfortable, how do you feel about him just finishing out the year?'” Student A said. “It shouldn’t be my choice for you to actually follow through and remove this individual, or do something when they are very clearly violating a policy.”

Baker was not the one who reported this individual, and felt that because he was making advances towards multiple people — especially younger employees — it was deeply concerning and could become a larger problem. 

“They just said if you need support, let us know, but not much else can be done,” Baker said in regards to the response after the harassment was reported. 

“In cases such as these, all HRE staff are expected to follow the protocol to report an incident to the Office of Equal Opportunity,  Affirmative Action, and  Title IX,” HRE wrote in an email response when asked about the incident. “Once the report is complete and OEO/AA/Title IX has reviewed the case and done proper follow-ups, HRE will follow the recommendations from OEO/AA/Title IX. We consider what the students seeking support need from the situation to ensure the student’s voice is heard in any situation.” 

The female RAs who came forward didn’t feel it was their role to reprimand their coworker for his behavior. They were relying on HRE to follow policy and effectively deal with the RA in question. Despite the reporting process being carried out, the RA was allowed to continue working until he graduated.

“Whenever student leaders have expressed discomfort or that they’ve experienced a really concerning or gross remark like that, we don’t get support,” Student A said. “Nobody cares. It doesn’t go anywhere.”

Resident Advisor Experiences

Title IX and sexual assault/harassment training is meant to protect employees and provide them with a fair and safe environment. However, not seeing any solutions from their supervisors after reporting these issues, the employees felt doubtful about the effectiveness of this training. Many RAs reported feeling as though Bacon favored their male counterparts and had no interest in resolving the matters, leaving them to attempt to avoid the male students they reported experiencing issues with.  

Baker, Ellis and others noted that it was highly uncomfortable entering the building they lived in because they never knew if they would run into the male RAs they reported. In part due to continual issues experienced while working for HRE and a lack of response when reporting sexual harassment, both Baker and Ellis did not return to HRE. Ellis was not rehired for the year following her reporting, but the male student she reported was. 

After a year working for housing and the sexual harassment she experienced, Baker said, “I don’t think it’s worth it to go back just for the free housing, especially with how HRE manages … their students, their RAs, anyone.”

 

Editor’s note, Nov. 30 11:35 a.m. This story was updated to provide the dates that the workplace relationship incident and inappropriate messages incident mentioned were reported to HRE, according to HR records.

 

[email protected] 

@AynaelyssyaT

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About the Contributors
Aynaelyssya Thomas, Investigative Writer
Aynaelyssya Thomas is pursuing degrees in Communication, emphasizing in journalism and political science at the University of Utah. Born and raised in Medford, Oregon, Aynaelyssya loves the outdoors, drawing, and reading. After college, she hopes to go into investigative journalism to bring light to situations and help people.
Emily Rincon, Photographer
Emily Rincon is a freshman at the U and a photographer for The Daily Utah Chronicle. When she’s not editing photos or videos late at night, she can be found revitalizing herself in nature or listening to music. Emily is currently majoring in film and media arts and minoring in communications.

Comments (10)

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  • .

    .Nov 27, 2023 at 12:28 pm

    I agree that HRE does not manage their students in an acceptable way. When I lived on campus for a year, I had serious problems, also with guys in my building, and nothing was done for the entirety I lived there. I felt uncomfortable living there and also shared the fear of running into them in my building. I had several meetings with HRE and nothing was done. They recommended that I should change buildings but offered no solution to stop the ones harrassinng me. It wasn’t taken seriously and it was an awful situation and I counted down the days till I got to move out. Honestly it was such a joke and ridiculous, but its interesting to hear that other people, even their staff, are having problems with them.

    Reply
  • J

    John HedbergNov 25, 2023 at 10:03 am

    When I was living in Shoreline, I had an RA I used to eat lunch with at Peterson who was gay. Several times, he hit on me, which since he has authority over fellow students and can have them sanctioned, means he was committing actual legal sexual harassment by asking me to have sex. I considered him a friend, and I don’t think he meant to threaten me into having sex, but the threat is legally implicit when someone who has authority over another person propositions that person: it’s the law.

    I didn’t bring it up to anybody, since I know for a fact that he didn’t mean it to be a threat, but what I did find problematic is what HRE was teaching him about other people’s diversity: he told me that refusing to sleep with him meant I was homophobic, which made me laugh, since he and I were friends, and we talked all the time, but HRE was teaching him that if you differ or are diverse from anyone else, that means you’re a bigot just for being yourself, which is the opposite of true.

    I pointed out that what HRE was teaching was the actual bigotry: looking at anyone different than himself and saying they’re being hateful simply for being diverse. He finally understood when I asked him his favorite flavor of ice cream. For him, I think it was Rocky Road. For me that week, I think it was Peppermint. I told him that just because he prefers Rocky Road and doesn’t particularly like Peppermint doesn’t mean he hates everyone who prefers Peppermint, it just means everyone has their own favorite flavor, which is why everyone’s diversity should be equally respected, since we’re all individuals with individual favorite flavors no matter how we look or identify.

    Once he understood that he was actually being the bigot by calling other men haters for not liking his own favorite flavor, he stopped trying to put my hair back in place every time it fell into my eyes, which was also not my favorite behavior among friends~! 😂

    FYI, women RA’s were not any better educated. I had one who was absolutely certain I wanted to sleep with her, even though I never asked her out, never suggested we get together, and never suggested anything except an appropriate RA-student relationship. To her, her feelings were enough to indicate there was something going on despite my friend-only behavior, and sadly, nobody in HRE teaches anyone about the psychological phenomenon called “projection”, which is what she was doing. She projected her own feelings and painted them onto me as if they were mine, and so in her mind, I was the one responsible for how she was feeling, even if I was totally unaware we were in the same room together (her boyfriend finally clued me in to how she was feeling, but he never saw me do or say anything suggestive to her, so he thought I should know it would be better to avoid her until she grew up a little, which I found thoughtful and reasonable).

    When you assume someone else’s feelings and motivations, and project your assumptions onto them without evidence, or even despite contrary evidence, that’s bigotry, and if you use that as a pretext to attack them when they’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve dehumanized them like good old Jim Crow. The threatening one (the oppressor) is now you, since you’re the one practicing that behavior.

    Just something to think about~ 🙂

    Kind Regards, with Love,
    J Hedberg

    Reply
  • S

    SJNov 24, 2023 at 11:52 am

    As a former co-worker to Tyler bacon, I can attest that the information in this article is inaccurate and defamatory. More research should have been done.

    Reply
    • Z

      ZBNov 28, 2023 at 1:03 pm

      Just because you had a good experience with Tyler does not mean that others have had the same. Your experience does not mean that these instances didn’t happen.

      Reply
      • S

        SJNov 28, 2023 at 6:18 pm

        I never said events did not happen. I am challenging the portrayal of Tyler’s role in those events. There is more information out there that a true investigative piece would have brought to light.

        Reply
    • A

      AnonymousNov 29, 2023 at 3:40 pm

      As someone in the article I will say a lot of stuff was written weird or told out of order and important information was missing. Making it look worse and the story was not very cohesive but everything I said did happen and I have never felt as unheard and disrespected as I did in housing.

      Reply
    • A

      AnonymousNov 30, 2023 at 9:42 am

      Can you tell us exactly what facts you know for sure to be inaccurate, which facts are accurate, and which facts you cannot speak to with certainty?
      Do you actually know that the specific events described in this article are false, or are you just giving more of a blanket statement on the Tyler Bacon’s character?
      Unless you can be more specific, your comment doesn’t really do much to inform us on the credibility of this article.

      Reply
      • L

        Logical readerDec 2, 2023 at 9:39 pm

        This article is a horrible example of investigative journalism. It lacks any responses from HRE or any factual information. There are several steps in response to any allegations made by anyone and there are several departments who are involved in the process. There are many people involved in investigations that it’s highly unlikely Tyler Bacon had any authority or make decisions on his own. This reads as a desperation article snd poor investigative piece that lacks any response from HRE. There are steps the journal can take to review documentation and factual documents on steps that were taken which lacks in this article at all. Tyler Bacon has every right to sue the journal for a defamation and slander piece. Highly doubt a department would ignore the allegations made in this article and any logical reader would be able to see past the lies and slander this article represents. I hope they do the right thing and rewrite this article after doing some true investigative journalism.

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        • A

          Abhilasha KhatriDec 5, 2023 at 9:56 pm

          Hello, my name is Abhilasha Khatri and I am the editor of the investigative desk. I wanted to address your comment. First, I want to make it clear that we have a thorough process for publishing articles and making sure they are factually accurate. Every single article goes through edits by 4 different people to make sure it is well-written and factually correct. We don’t state anything that has not been confirmed by multiple sources (this writer interviewed 6 current/former student employees) and/or relevant supporting records (for example, screenshots of text and email communications). We don’t embed every source within our article for various reasons, but include as much primary material as possible.

          You mentioned that the article “lacks any responses from HRE.” We reached out to Tyler for response, who is quoted in the article. We received a written response from him which was facilitated by communications staff. We also received written statements from Ana, who is quoted in this article, representing HRE. Below are the parts of the article where they were quoted or their response was paraphrased:

          HRE consists of “eight resident directors, one general manager and 163 student leaders — 107 of which are resident advisors,” according to Ana Belmonte, the associate director of communications and assessment for HRE.

          Due to the large number of HRE employees, every staff member is thoroughly trained on emergency response protocol, student conduct, Title IX and sexual assault training — among other items — prior to assuming their roles.

          When asked about the situation, Bacon wrote, “In cases such as these, I follow department protocols and consult with my supervisor. When we have situations like this, we consider all aspects of the situation and make an informed decision based on all parties involved.”

          “In cases such as these, all HRE staff are expected to follow the protocol to report an incident to the Office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX,” HRE wrote in an email response when asked about the incident. “Once the report is complete and OEO/AA/Title IX has reviewed the case and done proper follow-ups, HRE will follow the recommendations from OEO/AA/Title IX. We consider what the students seeking support need from the situation to ensure the student’s voice is heard in any situation.”

          HRE wrote a letter to the editor called “Letter to the Editor: HRE Letter to the U Community” which was published by the Chronicle if you want to hear more from HRE’s perspective.

          Additionally, when we reached out to HRE, we were told that they could not speak about specific cases due to student/employee privacy. That is why all of the questions were answered as hypothetical scenarios. However, after we published the article, HRE reached out to us to clarify the dates of the incidents. They told us in the email: “HR records show that the first incident (workplace relationship) was first reported in June 2022, while the second incident (inappropriate messages) was reported in November 2022.” We are confident that these incidents were reported and HRE was aware and took the steps they thought were appropriate. That does not mean that the sources we spoke to, who were directly affected by the incidents, felt that the situations were handled adequately. I think it is fair to represent that experience in the article, especially when it is a sentiment that was repeated by multiple sources. The aim of this article or any other article we publish is not “defamation” of any particular person. The aim is to investigate/shed light on issues, and oftentimes that means uplifting student voices and holding institutions accountable for mistakes.

          Reply
      • L

        Logical readerDec 3, 2023 at 11:55 am

        FERPA prevents anyone from releasing details of the investigation. The journal could do a request for information and documentation to consider all the facts which’s obviously was not done in this case. This is a poor example of investigative reporting and is clearly just a slander article. It’s a sad representation of any support HRE provides to their students. There are multiple levels of steps that are taken with all allegations and several steps of leadership involved in these investigations but this reflect none of that.

        Reply