Curran talks AU record, rebuilding trust in Mac’s Title IX office

Abe Asher, Managing Editor

For the first time in nearly a year, Macalester has a permanent Title IX and Bias Harassment Coordinator. Regina Curran, whose hiring was announced in February, officially joined Macalester on Monday, April 13. 

On Tuesday, April 21, The Mac Weekly sat down with Curran over Zoom to discuss her move to Minnesota, her record at American University and rebuilding trust in Macalester’s Title IX office. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Abe Asher (TMW): Are you in Minnesota right now? 

Regina Curran (RC): I am in Minnesota, yes. We still made the move to Minnesota. 

TMW: When did you get here?

RC: A week and a half ago.

TMW: What was it like moving with all of this going on?

RC: You know it’s a strange experience to be on the highway with almost no other cars. Mostly 18-wheeler trucks and other folks who were clearly moving — budget vans carrying a U-Haul behind them. It was a strange, strange experience for sure. 

TMW: And you were coming from D.C.?

RC: Just outside, yeah.

TMW: So how long did the trip take, and how long would you have expected that it would have taken under normal circumstances?

RC: We made it in two days, which is what I think it would have taken regardless, but for scale, the biggest area of traffic would have been right outside of D.C… we made it from D.C. to just over the Pennsylvania border in just over an hour-and-a-half — which is essentially unheard of. That was a small snippet of the trip, but it was a pretty good example of how it continued from there.

TMW: You were at American [University] for a while and in D.C. for a while — so why Macalester? Why this job? Why Minnesota?

RC: You know, we actually have some family in the area. D.C. is a place a lot of people move to but not as many people are from, and my family, we are not from there. My spouse’s family is from Wisconsin, my spouse is actually a Macalester alum, and so when the opportunity came open, it was just the right time for us to move near family. We’ve loved the Twin Cities for a long time, I’m really passionate about a liberal arts education and have enjoyed working in those settings, and so in particular when the Macaelster opportunity came open, that was of a very specific interest to me in much more of a way than other institutions may have been.

I obviously know a lot about Macalester given my connections to it, [as] an academically rigorous institution, but also an institution where students are really engaged and care not just about the institution and the surrounding community, but also the issues that are facing the world. That is something that is very true for AU students as well, so in some ways Macalester students feel somewhat akin to students I was working with at AU — and it’s a population I enjoy. Definitely at AU and certainly I expect at Macalester, if you are working with a student population that is really engaged and really cares, you need to do your work well. And I like being kept on my toes. 

TMW: The first thing jumped out to a lot of people looking you up when you got hired was all of these [Office of Civil Rights (OCR)] investigations into the AU Title IX program. The question for a lot of people here was, ‘what do we make of that?’ I would love to hear if you have any read into or take away from the fact of those investigations. 

RC: I think first and foremost I always want to express to students that the ability to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education is a fundamental right of community members at educational institutions. And for me what’s really important about that is that the college or university not engage in any way trying to inhibit students or community members from exercising that right. In fact, it’s our job to ensure that our community knows they have that right.

I say that because it would be antithetical to my thinking about students being aware of their rights and resources to in any way discourage them from filing a complaint. So what I do want to reflect on is that AU students are really aware of their resources as it relates to the federal government, given that typically students choose to go to that institution in the District of Columbia because they are very interested in working with or in or adjacent to the federal government. So in some ways it speaks to knowledge more than anything. We don’t maybe love high numbers of complaints, but on the same hand, if it’s your right — and five complaints over hundreds of reports we would receive over that period of time is still, to me, a proportional amount. 

I think [The Mac Weekly] did a good job of being clear [in previous reporting] and addressing that complaints can be filed by both complainants and respondents. Just to give a sense of why either party might give a complaint — a complainant might file a complaint because they don’t feel the resolution was timely, or that the process gave them an equal voice, maybe they disagree with a not responsible outcome from a case. A respondent typically is filing when there is a finding of responsible [outcome], and I would say more often… when the outcome of that is some time away from the institution — so either suspension or dismissal from the institution. At that point, if they’ve appealed to their school and they haven’t had their appeal heard to their satisfaction, their forms of recourse are essentially one of two options: to file an OCR complaint or to sue the institution. So that’s essentially why you might get complaints filed… and I think you can also look to the particular leadership of the Office of Civil Rights to get a sense of what types of cases they may be taking now. They are not obligated to open investigations into every complaint they recieve. They get to choose. And I will just say, from my professional experience, they tend to choose those cases which align with the priorities they have set for the policy of their office. 

TMW: Just to close the loop on this, were you at American or are you now concerned at all about the number of OCR investigations? Or for you was it more or less a non-issue — something that people were taking advantage of because they knew about the resource and not something that was keeping you up at night? 

RC: I think it would be fair to say that I did not lose sleep over the OCR investigations at American University. I think it is appropriate to say that our students were aware of that resource, and I’m glad of that, and I hope Macalester students are aware of that resource. Certainly, if there is something to learn from any of those, I welcome that opportunity. We always want to do the best that we can, and so where there is helpful feedback, let’s take it and use it in positive ways. 

But no, the number of complaints, and as I mentioned earlier, as it related to the number of reports that would have been received over that same time period is less than one percent — less than a fraction of a percent, in all reality. So not to say that we don’t want to do the best job and that we shouldn’t look critically at all feedback that we get, especially where students feel compelled to litigate or file OCR complaints, we absolutely should, but, given the knowledge that I have, I am comfortable with the decisions that we were making.

TMW: Did this ever come up when you were interviewing here? 

RC: No, it didn’t come up super substantively when I was interviewing here. Folks were definitely aware of where I was coming from and the institution and things like that, and so we talked about it in those ways, but I wouldn’t say it was like, ‘This is the walk the plank question-and-answer’ perhaps.  

TMW: Turning a bit more to Macalester as opposed to your career — the Macalester Title IX office has had a pretty tumultuous stretch over the last several years. To what extent are you aware of this history or have been asked about or talked about the recent past of the Title IX office?

RC: I would say I’m pretty aware. One of the first things I did when applying for the job was look up The Mac Weekly and read a number of past articles. 

TMW: Smart. No wonder you got [the job].

RC: Yes, it was very helpful! Very helpful resource. And I think it’s important. I think anyone coming in to do this work needs to understand the landscape that they’re walking into. So yes, I would say I’m pretty aware, [and] I would say it was thoroughly discussed in every part of the interview process I was in. The day-long interview we talk to students, faculty and staff, so I had an opportunity to talk to a really wide array of community members, and I think all of them brought up both their past experiences but also what their goals and hopes were for the future.

TMW: So in those conversations, particularly with students, what is your feeling about the level of trust that Macalester students have at this point in the Title IX office?

RC: I want to say it sounded like at least on the tails of having an interim in for I guess about a year now, there was, it started it sound like, some cautious hopefulness… I will just say that, for me, I come into this position knowing that building trust is going to be a significant part of the job — that understanding the community is going to be a significant part of the job. I think that’s always a part of the job. Even though I think Macalester students and AU students share similarities, it is not the same institution. And the things that Macalester students have experienced in the past, are concerned with, are facing in the future will be different. So it’s really incumbent upon me to get to know the community and make sure we’re making the right decisions for Macalester. 

Trust and reliability are the same but different, and something that is really important to me and has always been important to me in my career is that I’m seen as a reliable resource: even if you don’t maybe agree with or like the answer I give, you can trust that it’s the same answer I would give to other folks who are similarly situated as yourself, or you can trust that it’s coming from a place that’s consistent with our policy and our values and things like that. So those are a couple of things that I’m just thinking about given the awareness and what seemed like cautious hopefulness. I want to capitalize on that and not let that opportunity go. Given everything in the history, that community members are even willing to give anyone a chance is pretty generous — so it’s important to me that we capitalize on that. 

TMW: The last thing I’ll touch on is, in terms of life for students under quarantine, where it seems like rates of domestic violence are up — is that something that the Title IX office can take up at all or is offering any support on?

RC: Yes, we are open, we are operational, we are ready to engage with students, faculty and staff who have concerns. One of my first major phone calls, and a continuing conversation that I’m having as often as I can while we’re here, is with Jen Jacobson, Director of Sexual Violence Prevention. We are in regular and close communication, especially in this time, about what resources are available, how we can be aware. I’ve had the perhaps unique experience of living in a number of places in the country… and I’m certainly happy to help connect students where we can. 

But something that I hope to do in my time at Macalester is really re-emphasize with the community that yes, my office provides investigations. But the reality of my experience in Title IX is that a larger percentage of the work that we do is around supportive measures and interim measures that really help ensure access and equity. So I want to invite students, faculty and staff who need support in this time to please consider us a resource. Even if it’s not here, someone is home in Idaho, we will figure out as best we can what resources are available to them there.

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