In the wake of a Title IX investigation into a former University of Alaska Anchorage professor that found decades of sexual misconduct, an important dialogue is raising awareness and reporting at UAA, according to campus officials. 

Fallout after the findings of a Title IX investigation into UAA Anthropology professor David Yesner includes a federal lawsuit against him, the University of Alaska system and the board of regents. 

But not all of the impact has been negative. 

In April, UAA hosted a #MeToo event that was the first of its kind for the university. Assistant anthropology professor Sally Carraher said as news of the investigation into Yesner spread through the tight-knit department, she wanted to encourage a productive, continued dialogue. 

"Our focus, from the moment we started planning it, was that we want to re-center attention around supporting people and making sure they feel safe to speak their truths and ensuring that people at UAA are actually going to listen," she said. 

Eleven stories were submitted anonymously through an online tool, then read aloud by a panel of volunteers. Some of the stories were heard for the first time during the event. 

Organizers asked that media not attend, in order to ensure a comfortable environment for all, but Carraher later compiled a summary of the information shared through stories at the event and shared it with UAA faculty and KTVA.

According to the summary, students reported experiencing the following:

  • Stalking
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Being drugged (roofies) 
  • Microaggressions, e.g. a faculty member makes excuses for an alleged abuser

"This was not a research study with a formal sampling strategy, and there is no way to know how the stories shared on April 22 compare to the experiences of the UAA population overall," Carraher wrote. "There is no way of knowing the experiences of people who have never reported to anyone. However, we believe there are victims out there who have still never reported." 

Sara Childress, who contributed to the investigation into Yesner and now serves as the director of UAA's Title IX office, says she was encouraged by the large turnout at the event. 

"It was a difficult night. There were a lot of difficult things to hear. It gave me hope in the direction that we're moving, and I think it educated a lot of people that didn't have the awareness that so much was going on on our campus," she said, adding, "It's really easy to think it's not going on around you and it's happening everywhere." 

Her office received several new reports after the event, according to Childress, however the number was already on the rise. She said they received three times as many reports during the fall 2018 semester than in the fall 2017 semester.  

"As a result of our leadership really voicing their expectations really clearly, our reports went up instantly," she said. "And that doesn't mean incidents went up drastically, it means folks started to report what I call yellow flags, which is exactly what I want." 

Childress describes yellow flags as being concerning behaviors that occur before an escalation that creates harm. 

"Historically, we got reports after something terrible had happened," Childress explained. "And now we’re getting reports about concerning behaviors." 

Carraher's summary report offered specific recommendations for UAA, which include allocating resources to the Title IX office.

"We are living through a generational and social shift in attitudes toward gender inequality, sexual violence, and casual sexism in the early 21st century," she wrote. "UAA should not be merely reactive to or passively participating in this – we should be a local leader in this global shift. Some of this work is already happening. Some of this work is easy to do. Some of this work will be hard, but it still must be done." 

Childress said none of the recommendations are new to her office, but rather are suggestions they're already working toward. With her office recently fully staffed, Childress is focused on closing open investigations and training new employees. She said she's also focused on training for faculty and staff who are responsible for reporting sexual harassment and assault to the Title IX office. 

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