Panel educates students on new Title IX procedures

If a University of Tennessee student finds themself a victim of sexual violence, where do they go?

This year, they can walk into the brand-new Title IX Office on Melrose Avenue, and their report will be the first step in a process UT’s Title IX staff spent the summer trying to perfect.

The Title IX Office teamed up with the Chancellor’s Honors Program to familiarize students with the 2017 Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation by hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday night.

The 2017 fall semester is the first time in school that there has been a stand-alone Title IX Office. It’s headed up by Ashley Blamey, the former director of the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness.

Title IX is the federal policy established in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on the sex or gender of students and employees at educational institutions that receive federal funding. This includes prohibition of sexual harassment or violence.

As Blamey explained at the panel, if a student experiences harassment or violence, the Title IX Office is where they should go.

How it Works

Blamey told the audience to start by thinking of UT as a town that contains up to 40,000 people on any given day.

“Given the size of our community,” Blamey said, “there are going to be people who are outside of our community values.”

When something happens to a student that falls outside of UT’s community values and is relevant to Title IX, the student can walk into the office and make a report.

From there, the student has three options. They can request limited action, report to the Office of Student Conduct, or report to law enforcement.

Limited action measures include connections to medical care, counseling, communication with faculty, and any arrangements that need to be made with housing, work, or transportation. The Title IX Office can also issue a no-contact directive, which Blamey describes as “a line in the sand” that UT can issue to stop interaction between two University-affiliated parties.

“There [limited action] pieces are designed someone can continue to live their life,” Blamey said.

If a student chooses limited action, they have the right to request that their contact with the Title IX Office never be released, as well as the right to refuse to name the respondent.

If a student chooses to report to the Office of Student Conduct, the person they accuse will be investigated by the Office of Student Conduct.

Betsy Smith, director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, who sat on the panel, explained that since a school investigation looks different than criminal proceedings because “We’re not looking to take away the life or liberty of an individual.”

While a criminal court has to prove something took place “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the University has to prove something is “more likely than not.”

If the Office of Student Conduct meets that burden of proof, the accused person is subject to University discipline.

If a student chooses to report to law enforcement, a police investigation will take place with the goal of criminal prosecution in mind.

Blamey explained this process with a series of flowcharts, and she reminded the audience “none of this is as simple as it looks on paper” but the goal of the panel was to help students understand why the Title IX Office is here.

The Prevention Goals of Title IX

The main goal of the Title IX Office, as well as the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness is to prevent these incidents before they happen.

The process of prevention starts before new Vols even make it to campus. They take an online module the summer before their first semester and sit through a session on safety and consent at orientation.

“In Tennessee, some of our students have never had that conversation before,” Blamey said. “Some people  say ‘you can’t educate to change this issue’ and I say ‘ if that’s the case, we should all go home’.”

Once students are on campus, they can receive bystander training through CHEW’s Volunteers Speak Up program.

Blamey described Title IX issues as public health issues that all members of the campus community can work to prevent.

“Every single person in this room can help change this,” Blamey said. “If you are here, then you are part of the change.”

Title IX in 2017

Multiple students at the panel addressed concern over recent comments about Title IX investigations on campus made by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

While Blamey acknowledged that UT will have to take into account any future guidance that comes from the federal government, she reassured the students present that the procedures put in place at UT are here to stay.

“There is no concern, or shouldn’t be, that Title IX is going away,” Blamey said.

So far this semester, Blamey said things have been running more smoothly than before.

Title IX Office has seen an increase in reports. Since getting their own building, more students have been walking in.

The new policies were made with the experiences of students who are victimized and students who are accused in mind, and the panel was an early-semester push to make students aware of what those policies are and what the Title IX Office does.

“We’re worked really hard…to be more clear, to make the language more accessible,” Blamey said.

“As far as our interactions with students, it feels much more thoughtful.”

This story was originally published on The Tennessee Journalist. To view it on their website, click here.


Summer Heat Challenges the Homeless

The following story is a reader-friendly version of the audio script for a feature story I wrote and produced during my time as a WUOT news intern. The complete audio package can be found on WUOT’s website:

On the afternoon of July 11, the high in Knoxville hit 91 degrees. A small crowd gathered inside Volunteer Ministry Center on Broadway, taking refuge from the beating sun outside. Getting inside, in the air conditioning, is more than just a means for comfort. It can be vital for the people served by non-profits such as VMC. One of them is Steve. He says finding drinking water is crucial.

“It’s kinda rough,” he says. “If you don’t have the right clothing, you could dehydrate very fast. There’s not too many places, I mean around here you can get water to hydrate but usually it’s hard to find that.”

Peggy uses VMC’s resource center.

“I’ve never really been a Gatorade drinker, but I have found a favorite flavor now,” she tells WUOT’s Sophie Grossrode. “A lot of people don’t want to drink water but you know what, that’s one of the things that you really need in this kind of weather.”

For most Americans, summer is a season of vacations and swimming pools. But for many of the 8,700 homeless persons the Department of Housing and Urban Development counted in Tennessee in 2016, summer becomes a time of added struggle and health hazards.

For those considered “street homeless,” exposure to the elements is a round-the-clock concern.

“If they are not involved in a program, they could be literally spending from seven o’clock till about 4 [or] 4:30 in the afternoon out on the streets,” says Gabriel Cline, clinical services director at Volunteer Ministry Center.

If left unchecked, dehydration can lead to heatstroke. Substance abuse or preexisting medical conditions can make people even more vulnerable.

“There’s a lot of different challenges,” Peggy says. “The one that I stay most concerned with is my breathing. The humidity here has been crazy. A lot of times when it gets to 85, 90 degrees, it’s very, very hard for me to breathe…it’s hard to explain how bad it is and what it can become.”

Cline says a program called White Flag is designed to help nonprofit agencies, including VMC, Knox Area Rescue Ministries and the Salvation Army, recognize hot weather and take action to help the homeless.

“[White Flag] is a program that provides inside shelter during extreme weather,” Cline says. “When the temperatures get up to 90 or above we literally hang out a white flag and folks can come inside and just be inside in shelter and get water even if they’re not a member of our program.”

Highs in Knoxville have hit 90 degrees or above more than a dozen times this month. Regardless of the thermometer reading, Steve says his summers revolve around finding shelter, finding water and cooling off whenever he can.

“If it’s hot I’ll get on the bus or the trolley or go to library or go to the park or somewhere there’s water you can cool down, but mostly when it’s hot I try to stay around this area ‘cause I know I can come in out of the heat. As far as dealing with the temperatures and being homeless it’s…”

Steve pauses and sighs.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It can be really rough sometimes.”

Birth Professionals Talk Out-of-Hospital Birth

Two interviews, one with Rachel Chandler and Rebecca Mustaleski of Roots and Wings Birth Services in Knoxville, TN, and the other with Jake Majors, a retired obstetrician from Shreveport, LA. This podcast is part of larger story about birth trends. It was scripted, recorded, and edited by Sophie Grosserode. Cover photo is by Bridget Colla, licensed under Creative Commons:

Knoxville conducts first homeless youth count

Knoxville conducted its first ever Point-in-Time count of homeless youth last month; the task was easier said than done.

Every year in the last week of January, Knoxville joins communities across America in conducting a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to get an accurate picture of homelessness in the community. This year, Knox County joined a growing number of American cities in trying something new.

On January 26th, the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition conducted Knox County’s first ever PIT Count of homeless youth.

PIT Counts are annual events that record how many people are experiencing homelessness in a community on a single night. The numbers get reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where they go into a national database. On a local level, PIT counts help municipalities address the specific needs of their homeless population and measure if programs already in place are working.

According to Michael Dunthorn, program coordinator for the City of Knoxville’s Office on Homelessness, the desire to do a youth count came from both national and local directions.

“There’s a national effort to try and get a better idea of the youth component of homelessness, but then, locally, there’s a youth homelessness council that has formed as part of the local homeless coalition that has really geared up over the past year, and they also really wanted to do this,” Dunthorn said.

Gabe Cline, chair of the Homeless Coalition, said the youth council formed so the city could address specific needs of the youth population. According to Dunthorn and Cline, youth experiencing homelessness are often trying to finish their education and lack support systems or experience to help them navigate life.

“They don’t necessarily have the independent living skills that some older adults have had. They don’t have typically a job history or a rental history, so when they go to try to start out on their own, they don’t have anything to fall back on,” Cline said.

For the Homeless Coalition, creating something for homeless youth to fall back on was a motivation behind doing this PIT count.

“We all need that kind of support. Most of us were fortunate enough to get it from our families or elsewhere in our communities, but I think for homeless youth, they don’t have those natural support networks. Our coalition is hoping to be able kind of fill some of those gaps,” Cline said.

To get the word out that the count was happening, the Homeless Coalition posted flyers in public libraries and bus transfer stations. It contacted staff at Knox County Schools and Pellissippi State Community College. For Cline, it was a learning experience.

Often youth are not living in shelters or “literally homeless,” living on the street. Youth are typically “couch-surfing,” or moving from place to place, so they can be harder to connect with and may not self-identify as homeless.

“I think a lot of times the youth themselves don’t really identify as ‘yes i’m homeless because my parents kicked me out and I’m moving from friend to friend’,” Cline said.

On the day of the count, volunteers hit the streets looking for youth to survey. In addition to pure numbers, volunteers also tried to collect information about demographics and specific experiences of people they found. Dunthorn was helping to send out groups of volunteers, and Cline was in her office at the Volunteer Ministry Center troubleshooting issues that came up.

“Really for this year, it was almost a learning experience to figure out where we might find folks. Some places we anticipated there was nobody, and then other places we found quite a few,” Dunthorn said.

Cline hopes to do even better in future years.

“What we got back from the school system was that they had information about more youth than we counted. So I think we still have a lot of work to do to figure out how best to engage folks and let them know that there are folks out here who want to try to help them navigate this system,” Cline said.

While Dunthorn said the Office on Homelessness hopes to have their information compiled in a couple weeks, it will be longer before the data is ready for public release. Knoxville’s numbers won’t come out until the national numbers do, and it will be months before HUD releases those.

“I think the extra effort this year will teach us additional information on who’s out there and what their needs really are. Kids are out there, young people are out there. We really want to reach them and help them get on the right path before it becomes a lifelong situation,” Dunthorn said.

Cline agrees that whatever the count reveals, the ensuing effort will be all about rising to meet the needs of Knox County’s youth.

“We think we have a good idea, but you never know for sure until you ask the folks who are experiencing homelessness: ‘what is missing?’,” Cline said. “The next step is, how do you build those services, how do you come together as a community and provide services to meet those needs?”

To view this story with accompanying graphics and audio, visit The Tennessee Journalist at the link below:


McClung Museum hosts Darwin Day birthday celebration, teaches kids about evolutionary science

Knoxville families were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday to learn more about evolutionary science and the work of Charles Darwin in honor of Darwin’s upcoming birthday.

Knoxville’s young and old alike were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday for the third annual Darwin Day celebration.

This event was the first of four for Darwin Day at UT. It was an early birthday party for Charles Darwin, who was born February 12, 1809. The event was free and family-oriented, with cake, music and crafts for kids of all ages.

Jen Bauer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences who volunteers with the museum, said Darwin’s birthday party is a great way to get kids thinking about science.

“We’re just interested in promoting evolutionary science in general and dispelling a lot of misinformation that’s out there. We just want kids to be excited about science and not be afraid to ask questions,” she said.

The main way the party got kids thinking about evolutionary science was at the crafts table,where they made their own phylogenetic trees. Phylogenetic trees are diagrams that show evolutionary relationships between different species. The kids could make them out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, and string.

“They can pick the animals that they want to be on the tree, and think about how they’re related to one another and then take it home and hang it up.” Bauer said.

Partygoers could also make buttons, complete a scavenger hunt through McClung Museum and take pictures with the Charles Darwin puppet in attendance.

Each of the children found something to enjoy:

“I like doing the arts and crafts.” — Isabella, age 6.

“So far, I like the museum the best.” — Louis, age 6.

“My favorite part is celebrating my birthday too. I will be nine when Darwin turns 208.” — Rose, age 8.

The party wasn’t just for kids, either. As senior community member Jack Slaughter said, “It’s something fun to do, to get away from the Super Bowl.”

Even Monty the Edmontosaurus, unofficial mascot of McClung Museum, joined in on the fun with a party hat of his very own. Monty’s party hat was made for him by Lindsey Jo Wainwright, Coordinator of Academic Programs at McClung Museum.

“It turns out you can’t buy dinosaur sized party hats,” Wainwright said.

The Darwin Day fun will continue next week with a parade and two lectures. The Evolution and Science Parade will take place on Pedestrian Walkway at 12 pm on Monday, February 13. The Keynote speech will be delivered by Dr. Stacey D. Smith in AMB Cox Auditorium at 7 pm that evening. Smith will discuss this year’s theme, plant adaptation. The final event will be a lecture by Darwin Day Tennessee Founder, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, February 14.

Full details can be found at

This story was also published on The Tennessee Journalist news website. To view it there, please click this link: