By Annalisa Purser, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
OEO/AA, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, is a resource for the campus community, entrusted with protecting a respectful educational and work environment at the U. Trust and equality of opportunity enables all members of the U community to achieve their goals and objectives. The office accomplishes this mission by implementing and enforcing policies on nondiscrimination.
U alum and Salt Lake City native Sherrie Hayashi recently returned to her U roots and is now the director of the office and the U’s Title IX coordinator.
Title IX is part of the Civil Right Act that requires gender equality in education. For many years Title IX focused on equity in athletics programs, but more recently, greater attention has been placed on higher education’s obligations to meaningfully address and prevent sexual assault, sexual misconduct and harassment on campus and ensure that students have equal opportunity to pursue their educational efforts free from discrimination and harassment.
We sat down with Sherrie to get to know her better, understand how she became interested in civil rights and learn about the issues she anticipates will shape the future of higher education.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science in political science, and then went on to graduate from the College of Law. Most of my professional career was with the Utah Labor Commission, the state agency responsible for enforcement of Utah’s employment and housing discrimination laws, as well as other labor-related regulatory responsibilities, such as workers’ compensation and occupational safety and health. Having grown up near the University of Utah and attending school here, returning to the U feels like returning “home.”
Q: What got you interested in law?
A: As an undergraduate studying political science, much of my course work focused on constitutional law, race and gender studies and civil rights issues. Nearing graduation, my interest was in pursuing a career in civil rights but I had no clear idea of how to pursue that pathway. Law school seemed to provide the most open-ended options and opportunities.
Q: What brought you to the U?
A: Having attended the U and living in Utah, I knew and had confidence that the U, as an institution, is committed to the principles and values of equal opportunity. Although any large complex organization will have issues and challenges, a culture and climate where equal opportunity and inclusiveness are valued was important to me.
Q: What excites you about your new role at the U?
A: I am excited to bring a new perspective and build on the successes of the OEO Office. Education and outreach are critical in ensuring a campus climate free of discrimination and harassment and I am looking forward to working collaboratively with campus organizations to make sure that we’re reaching all students on campus.
Q: What do you want the campus community to most understand about Title IX?
A: Members of the University of Utah community, whether students, staff, faculty or visitors, are entitled to be free from sex discrimination, including discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. This includes sexual violence, sexual assault (rape), sexual exploitation, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Additionally, under Title IX, the university must provide accommodations if a student is pregnant or parenting and equal access to all of the U’s programs, services and activities — from athletics to student services to academics.
I want to be sure students, staff and faculty know their rights and their responsibilities under Title IX, such as reporting sexual misconduct when it happens. Students should also know that protective measures can and will be provided, such as changes in academic, working or living, situations, counseling and no contact orders, so they can continue to focus and pursue their educational endeavors after this kind of victimization. Sanctions may be imposed against those who violate university policy.