Q&A: 'It's not just a woman's issue, it's a human issue'


Title IX and Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity (OCRIE) Deputy Director Mary Martinez informs students of resources on campus for victims of sexual assault March 20, 2019, in the Bovee University Center Lake Huron Room. The event discussing sexual misconduct, prevention, and reporting options was hosted by OCRIE.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

Mary Martinez was named Central Michigan University’s Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity (OCRIE) executive director on Aug. 30 after serving as interim director in June 2019. 

Martinez serves as CMU’s affirmative action and equal opportunity officer, as well as the Title IX coordinator. Title IX protects against sex discrimination on college campuses as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Before becoming executive director, Martinez worked as a Title IX investigator and served at the University of Toledo as apart of the Offices of Student Conduct and Student Life, and worked in Michigan State University’s residence life department. 

Martinez grew up in Wisconsin and pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in social work at MSU, and earned certificates in diversity and gerontology. In 2009, she graduated with her masters in social work from MSU.

Central Michigan Life sat down with Martinez to discuss her work with Title IX as well as the changes and impact it has created across campus.

How did you get involved with Title IX?

Martinez: I started working in higher education and student affairs. I was a hall director at two other universities, and then transitioned into being a director of student conduct. Back in 2012, when Title IX regulations really started changing at the federal level, I stepped into that position again at another university, and as odd as it sounds, I have just thrived and loved doing the work.

What makes you passionate about Title IX?

Advocating for survivors and the underrepresented is something that I'm passionate about. It’s about just being there if someone needs somebody.

 I never know what my next phone call or email or incident report is going to be, and being a first generation student, I really understand the struggle of finding your place at a university. You don’t know if a vulnerable incident happened: You might be at your lowest and you don't know who to go to or who you can trust, or if you should even go to someone and understand what that feels like. Even though it was many years ago, I still want to be that support for an individual who might need it. So my passion, what keeps me going every day, are the students and the other employees that I help. Even if it's just by saying, ‘I'm here if you need something.’ [Whether it's] helping someone find shelter or food or getting out of a dangerous environment, that's really what I'm passionate about. I hear difficult stories, but at the end of the day, I'm grateful that I can be there for somebody.

What made you want to fulfill a position affiliated with OCRIE? 

I sought out CMU. I wanted to be here. I'm originally from Wisconsin and lived in Ohio and Michigan, and [I was] looking with my family where we wanted to be. I have a child who was young when we moved here, and we were really looking for a place where I could stay long term and make a career. CMU hit all those boxes with OCRIE. 

CMU was the first public university in Michigan to have a stand alone sexual misconduct policy. I mean, just thinking about that like we were the path leaders of that, about six months before I started it here. That really drew me here. The dedication and the leadership of the university saying we have a stand alone policy about this, it is something that CMU is passionate about, the long history of student advocacy.

Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA) is celebrating its 25th year, so it's a big year for Title IX. It's its 50th anniversary, but the SAPA Program, having 25 years on campus, having that historic and alumni support for that program, those types of things, the leadership standards that CMU has for its employees, that's what [also brought] me here. When I was looking for my next career move, I was very intentional looking at things, and CMU really hit it all for me. I'm not here for the job, I'm here for the students and the school and the mission of the university.

Your previous position as the Title IX Investigator, what work were you doing in that role? What impact did that bring on campus? 

I started at CMU as a Title IX investigator. This meant that when a Title IX complaint came in, [I was] doing the fact finding and the fact gathering for the incident. It includes talking to the complainant or the survivor, talking to the respondent -- who is what we call the alleged person -- and any witnesses, [as well as] looking at any evidence. When I was doing that work, part of the responsibility, the investigation was determining if the university policy was violated or not. It was really hands-on, kind of in-the-field, gathering all the facts, gathering that information and weighing it all against each other to determine if someone violated the policy, and, if they did, what that discipline would look like.

Title IX has changed over recent years, and the federal law changed in 2020. The way that we do our investigations have changed slightly; but the core values of CMU have not changed, so you know that we are fair and equitable in our process. We don't make any pre-assumptions about anything, and we empower individuals to advocate for themselves as well. When I'm thinking of working with a survivor of any type of sexual misconduct -- that could be sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence [or] sexual exploitation -- we need to understand the neurobiology of trauma and how not every survivor is ready for the fight or ready at the same time to move forward. A survivor might [disclose what happened] the next day and want to start the process for justice immediately. For whatever reason, survivors might wait a while to report. They might still be processing things. They might not realize that they were actually a victim or a survivor. They might not recognize that yet.

I think the culture at CMU is to give that time and space and understand that everybody processes their lived experiences in a different way, and we need to be ready to support them wherever they're at throughout that process. That is something that I think has benefited the university greatly. 

Title IX was created 50 years ago. What has changed, what’s different? 

Oh, so much. In 1972, when Title IX was passed, it was really about giving women opportunity in sports and athletics. Originally it was about equal opportunity: That started in athletics and then it spread campus-wide. In just 50 short years -- because it's really not that long a time when you're talking about higher education -- providing equity for all students is what got this (spread) started, and holding universities accountable if they were not treating women equally. 

The Civil Rights Movements started this as we moved into looking at other forms of inequities. For example, some universities had what they called the women's dorms and had a 10pm curfew, when the men came and went as they pleased. Now, even different genders could live together. We have gender inclusive housing where it doesn't matter who you live with, you're looking for a healthy roommate relationship, not for someone who biologically was born one way or another. 

It was shortly after Title IX started 50 years ago that the marching band on campus had its first woman. I think that says a lot. I also think we have a long way to go. Just because a law was passed 50 years ago doesn't mean that it's always being followed. 

We are continuously working to improve to have a better student experience for everyone and recognizing that hopefully in 20 years, right now, that won't be a conversation that we're having. Maybe it'll be a different conversation. I think what I get from all of it, too, is that those who came before me did a lot of work and it's important for us and the people who come after me to continue doing that work.

What are the current goals for Title IX? 

In the next couple of weeks, if technology is in my favor, we'll be launching our annual online training. All first-year students and new transfer students are required to take this online training about sexual misconduct. It really piggybacks on the "No Zebras, No Excuses," presentation that was given during orientation. [The presentation was] about bystander intervention and how to help somebody if they need it. [The program also teaches students] how to recognize signs of sexual harassment or potential dangerous situations, and talks about reporting where you can go to [receive help], different reporting options. 

That's my current goal is to just increase awareness about the rights of individuals when it comes to Title IX. [ I want to also] increase knowledge of this office and other support offices on campus, such as SAPA, the Counseling Center, center for Inclusion and Diversity (and) the chief diversity officer. 

We want to encourage people to take that (refresher courses on the No Zebra, No Excuses program) and just be mindful of looking out for one another. And if you see something, say something type of culture that we could build here.

Why should others be mindful of Title IX?

I think it's important for students to know that Title IX protects everybody, and it's for everyone. It's not a women's issue, it's not about women's equity. It's about gender equity and making sure that students know what their rights are and what their options are. Sexual assault, domestic violence [and] stalking could happen to anyone. Again, it's not just a women's issue, it's a human issue. Making sure individuals know what their rights are and what supports and resources are available to them, and also knowing what supports and resources are available to a friend that they might have. ... [Y]ou don't have to be the survivor or the complaint to be impacted by Title IX. It could be a friend, it could be a roommate, it could be a significant other, it could be someone who lives in your hallway, it could be someone in the student organization and it can impact you in otherways. We want to let students know that there's a lot of resources and support. Title IX is about providing those supports and resources and helping individuals get to a resolution.