On Wednesday, Jan. 30, members of the Drew Student’s for Title IX (DSIX) group gathered outside of Brothers College to deliver their petition to President MaryAnn Baenninger to reinstate the position of full-time Title IX coordinator. The members met at 3:30 p.m. in the Brothers College courtyard. Once gathered, the students, who consisted of five theological school students, walked to Mead Hall where they met with President Baenninger to formally deliver their petition. The meeting, which lasted approximately five minutes, began with the members of DSIX laying out the structure and contents of their full petition to the President. Once they presented their demands, DSIX member and theological school student Leif McLelland presented the full document to Baenninger. Following the presentation, the members shook hands with the President before continuing on to deliver the petition the Office of the Dean of the Theological School, Javier Viera. However, he was not on campus.
COURTESY OF MIKE McCURRY
The petition, which was created by DSIX, garnered just over 400 signatures. The primary mission of the petition is focused around the reinstatement of former Title IX coordinator Emily Ralph, who was let go over winter break amidst university budget cuts. In addition, the petition demands that the reinstated Ralph be given “institutional power,” along with necessitating student consent when engaging in future employment decisions regarding the position.
The petition also demands a response within two weeks of its delivery and a forum where students can “engage with President Baenninger and other administrators.”
In an address published by the Acorn last week, Drew University President MaryAnn Baenninger touched on the decisions that led to the staffing changes: “Our University has financial challenges, in part because we have tried to do too much with our limited resources. Our budget deficit means that we are spending more than we are taking in. This is not sustainable.”
President Baenninger also stated the importance of utilizing staff talents to fit multiple roles saying, “When staff members have overlapping skills or expertise, it may make sense to shift some of those staff resources to other areas.”
Responsibilities of the Title IX office have been moved to Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Frank Merckx. Merckx, who earned his Ph.D. from Drew in Medical Humanities, has previously served on the Governor’s Task Force for Sexual Assault under former Governor Chris Christie, where he was utilized for his expertise on Title IX and student conduct.
As to what they are hoping to accomplish with their petition, second-year seminary Ph.D. student Sarah O’Brien said, “First and foremost, we’re looking for the institution to not just give a response to students, but to actually give a public statement and address the entire Drew community.” Further, O’Brien stated, “We’re also asking for more data on the actual peer institutions that Drew says they did research on to make these changes.”
Regarding his opinion on why he came to deliver the petition, McLelland said, “I think it’s important for campus well being and student’s well being, and I have been personally helped by Emily Ralph.” Continuing on Ralph’s importance McLelland said, “She was very active in the theological community even in events she didn’t need to go to.” As to what McLelland wants to see happen next, he said, “I would like to see the position reinstated as a full-time position.”
The University has yet to issue a formal statement on the removal of Emily Ralph or the resulting petition. Drew Students for Title IX will be holding interest meetings on February 7 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Seminary Hall atrium.