The University of Montana released two reports in the past month that showed relationship violence, compared to sexual assault and stalking, as the most commonly reported violent crime to both the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) and University of Montana police.
UM employees submitted the reports for Title IX violations, according to the EOAA Title IX office on campus. Among those employees, the staff of UM Housing acted as the first responders in nearly one out of four cases of dating violence on cam- pus.
“The walls are pretty thin. You can hear when it’s happening,” said Heide Borgonovo, a UM Housing employee from 2016-2018. Borgonovo spent two years as a resident assistant her sophomore and junior year. As an RA for Craig and Jesse Hall, she was responsible for up to 40 students during that time. Borgonovo applied for the position because she enjoyed mentoring others, and she wanted to put off having to find an apartment in a city she was still new to.
Before her first assignment as an RA, she attended a battery of training sessions over three weeks, along with presentations from Title IX, Curry Health Center, UMPD and the Student Advocacy Resource Center.
Borgonovo said, all of the training aside, “you’re never fully prepared to handle something as dramatic as assault until it actually happens.”
“Looking back at how young the [RA] first-years are, because they’re only sophomores usually, it’s a lot to handle for a young adult,” she said.
Although the EOAA Title IX webpage allows for anyone to submit a report, according to a summary report from the of- fice, UM employees made up nearly 80% of all submissions to the office during the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. A third of those reports came from UM Housing for the 2016 school year. The following year, UM Housing employees made up 25% of the 96 Title IX reports submitted.
UM policy requires UM employees, such as RAs, to enter a Title IX report within 24 hours of witnessing a violation.
The Title IX summary for the 2017 fiscal year showed 35 reports of relationship violence, and 28 reports in 2016.
The University’s Annual Campus Secu- rity and Fire Safety Report, released Oct. 1, showed 30 instances of domestic violence from 2017 through 2018, 28 of which occurred in UM Housing. Under dating violence, however, the report shows zero cases over the last three years.
UMPD Lt. Brad Giffin said two things explain the difference between the Title IX summary and the annual security report: Montana state law has no statute specifically for dating violence, and the University’s policy gives the choice of starting an investigation to survivors.
“The University’s approach to training its housing staff has definitely evolved in the past decade that I’ve been here,” said Sandy Curtis, director of UM Housing.
In addition to the three weeks of courses described by Borgonovo, UM Housing launched the training session known as “Behind Closed Doors” a year after the arrival of Curtis in 2010. All incoming RAs must respond to a random scenario organized by their more experienced counterparts. Situations can include responding to rape, assault and racial discrimination.
“I’m confident that they’re absolutely prepared. I started my career as an RA, and their role hasn’t changed in the 32 years since then. The job of any RA is to observe and report,” she said.
Curtis said UM Housing can and has moved students to new spaces on campus, always maintaining anonymity. In 2017, two people were placed in new housing accommodations following a report of relationship violence, along with issuing two orders of no contact, according to the Title IX summary report.
In September, the family of 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey filed a lawsuit against the University of Utah for failing to properly respond to threats to their daughter. According to an independent investigation, a breakdown in communication happened between the University of Utah’s office of housing and police department, and the report went unaddressed until her murder in October 2018.
Curtis said McCluskey’s death has been discussed among her colleagues at UM housing. Although she couldn’t comment on where the failure occurred at the University of Utah, both she and UM spokesperson Paula Short said UM developed a safety net that has Title IX meeting weekly with housing to review any report from any staff member working in one of the dorms or University owned apartments.
According to Short, this safety net for students consists of a collaboration between UMPD, the EOAA Title IX office, SARC and UM Housing.
“We have this incredible network of communication in place, but RAs remain a cornerstone of prevention of violence of any kind at UM,” Short said.