12/18/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/18/2018 12:07
Located in one of MSU's historic buildings on campus is a group of office suites that houses the Office of Institutional Equity, a neutral entity that reviews concerns related to discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence and stalking.
The office is comprised of approximately 21 individuals who work in a variety of capacities to provide a safe learning and working environment for the MSU community. One individual working for the betterment of MSU students, faculty and staff is Bianca Stepanyan.
Stepanyan is a training and accommodations specialist in OIE. She has worked in OIE since 2017; previously, she worked as an advocacy coordinator for the Sexual Assault Program at MSU. Stepanyan is an MSU alumna who graduated in '10 from the College of Social Science with a degree in psychology. She was also part of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).
Stepanyan agreed to answer some questions so as to provide the community at-large a better understanding of what she and the office, as a whole, does.
1. What is your role in OIE and how does your role support the efforts and mission of OIE?
The purpose of OIE is to make sure campus is safe. I provide support for anyone who is going through the investigative process with OIE and making sure they have what they need to be successful on campus. While OIE is a neutral entity, I provide resources for both claimant and respondent for OIE investigations. Sometimes individuals need accommodations made - such as a discreet notification to a professor excusing an absence, a request for extensions on assignments or facilitating and enforcing a university no-contact directive.
I also provide support for Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct online training. The online training can be very triggering for a survivor. It is important that the person in this role have knowledge and the skillset to understand and address issues that may come forth regarding sexual misconduct and relationship violence.
2. How did you become interested in the work you do?
I am originally from Mexico and am part of a conservative family where discussions of sex and rape were not ever part of the norm. Once in the U.S., I was part of the migrant community, and these topics were not brought up either. Learning about the MSU Sexual Assault Program (as an undergraduate) and what they do was eye opening, and it provided me with a new opportunity, which I never thought I would have. I realized I could advocate for sexual assault victims and also advocate for marginalized communities who are frequently forgotten.
3. What do you want people to understand about the work being done in MSU's Office of Institutional Equity?
Many people may have preconceived ideas about OIE largely due to the scrutiny the office is under when an investigation may not find evidence of a violation. I think this causes people to think that OIE doesn't care, but our job is to be a neutral entity. Unbiased.
What I want people to know is that OIE is constantly working to be better. OIE is made up of investigators who are working tirelessly - weekends and nights - to give every investigation their all. We are working to find ways to be more trauma informed and make the office accessible to anyone who needs it.
4. What are some of the most significant challenges facing higher education today, and what will it take to overcome them?
There are several challenges facing higher education currently. Serving those impacted most by issues of inequity is one of them. Recruiting and retaining marginalized groups is hard as it is, but then when you add the layer of people from these groups needing to file a report and access resources - that's something we need to continue to improve upon. It goes back to the need to create an inclusive environment on every level.
Right now, universities are working to be informed and to do the best for campus in terms of equity. We also have to make sure we are compliant with the Department of Education. Administration is going to have to work closely with experts in trauma and sexual violence to develop ways to be fair according to what is expected (in terms of compliance) and also in ways that are best for the university community.
OIE is committed to serving the MSU community. To learn more about the resources OIE provides, file a report or request a training, visit the Office of Institutional Equity.