(Photo courtesy of searchenginejournal.com)
Annie Ciaraldi is the Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Compliance and Violence Prevention. She is also the Title IX Deputy Coordinator and Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for Food and Housing Insecure Students. She has her undergraduate degree in political science and psychology and has a master’s degree in counseling.
Ciaraldi got her start in Student Affairs as a residence director at Plymouth State College and has now been with UMass Lowell for thirty-one years. She said she is dedicated to helping her students succeed in both college and life afterwards, making sure they have all the tools they need to thrive. In our conversation, we talked about the programs that are in place to help students, and how COVID-19 has affected her department and her interactions with students.
JULIA ASHLEY: Since your start at UMass Lowell have you seen a great improvement in the fight for equality and within Title IX?
ANN CIARALDI: Yeah, definitely. We started doing a lot of the prevention work. We saw our numbers of reporting go up tremendously. We went from, like, two or three the year before we really pushed with this, to 54, 55 reports (last year). And so, it works, and of course, people are like, “Oh my God, how do we have so many reports?” and things of that nature. But the reality is, is when you talk about it, when people become familiar with who they can report to, they’re more comfortable and they’re more apt to report. But honestly, it makes it safer for that particular person. And it makes it safer overall.
So, if a student were to have an issue, sexual assault or something like that would they go directly to you?
They can. They can come to — they’re called officials with authority — and I don’t think the university has publicized who those people are yet, but if they came to me, I would direct them directly to our Title IX coordinator. But they could start with us — either me, or Kate Legee, who’s a director of conduct. She’s also (a) deputy Title IX coordinator.
We would just refer the person to, Clara Reynolds, who’s our Title IX coordinator. The old process, they (used to be able to) go to anybody they thought had the ability to report it. And it would get reported. Now, it’s narrowed down to a limited number of people.
How did the Single Point of Contact get started?
We put together almost like a checklist of here’s the things you can do, and what it resulted in is we now have a committee — a working group of about 28 spots in Massachusetts, and we meet every Friday.
Whoever can (meet) online just to see what people are doing and what information they need, and what resources are out there and how we can share resources and ideas and things of that nature. We were the first to have a meal swipe program, so they’re all interested in how that happens. We have a good program going.
We were kind of instrumental in getting a Department of Higher Ed Homeless Student Program going. We coupled with another program downtown, Community Teamwork, and they provide case management for our students in the program.
What they do is teach them from the moment they start, all the way through the (end of the) program. When (these students) graduate from college, they will be secure and they won’t go back into homelessness. Our push is that no kid that leaves the program is ever homeless again.
How has COVID affected your job, your relations, and your daily interactions with all these people?
We’ve been able to carry on with — because one of the things I do is, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of — STARS on campus. It’s a behavioral intervention team.
It’s an online reporting thing where if someone’s concerned about somebody, they can report through (STARS) and then we reach out to the students and just make sure that they’re okay and that we have resources for them. So last March when we went strictly virtual, it made a lot of students suddenly disappear — basically, they weren’t attending classes and stuff.
We had to reach out to them, and then through that, we found a lot of students who were depressed and really struggling, had a lot of anxiety problems. So really, what (the pandemic) has done is just taken (away the ability of) me … (and) my case managers meeting with (students) one-on-one in our offices, to being virtual. But it really hasn’t changed much. We still follow up with all the students, we talk with them. My homeless students, I talk with them often, virtually, just to make sure everything’s going okay and stuff. It’s just shifted how we communicate, but not that we (don’t) communicate. We’re still doing everything.
What a lot of students are going through, they’re going home to families that aren’t used to having somebody online and talking or dealing with something, you know, it’s just not what they were expecting to do. Some people going back home to home situations that aren’t good, and they’re living on campus because they aren’t good. And now they have to go home. It’s not easy, so we’re just there to listen to them and figure out how they can work it.
Who or what motivates you?
I can tell you that in a heartbeat. My students. The students that I work with, whether they’re students who are hungry or homeless, or they’re students who are struggling with mental health issues or they’re just somebody who was having a hard time in a class, it’s my drive to help them and to make sure they’re successful.
That’s a huge thing to me is to really try and solve homelessness in college students. I don’t care what we have to do — (there) should be a solution. Nobody should be homeless, but if we’re going to talk about who we choose (to help) first, it is children and young adults. They just should not be on the street.
Every student that I meet with, I always tell them when I start meeting with them, my drive. So, until the day I leave, I’ll be fighting for this.