Anna Bartkowski’s office on the fifth floor of the University Center is clinical, impersonal. She is the opposite. She has a soft, open face. Her round greenish-gray eyes behind black-framed rectangular glasses shine. She is dressed in black from head to toe, strictly no-nonsense–but little hints of her personality show through. She wears a giant ring with multiple gold bands and peppered with multi-colored stones. Her woven bracelet is colorful next to her practical watch.
Anna is new to the USF community, having only arrived four months ago. As the new Title IX Coordinator, she oversees the University’s response to sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, and discrimination. Title IX prohibits any kind of gender identity or sex based discrimination and inequality, and Anna oversees it all.
“USF is not alone among American universities in needing to deal with issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Bartkowski says, “I would not characterize our campus as having a particularly egregious set of problems or even a large number of issues when compared with other similarly-situated colleges. [But] higher ed institutions, as a whole, do have a problem with sexual assault and collectively, as well as individually, we are addressing those issues.”
With this in mind, Anna had to go through all of the policies and find the barriers that prevent students from reporting. She is confident that USF has a good policy in place. “We’ve tightened that up, the policies and procedures are in place,” she said.
She plans to educate the entire campus population about the ins and outs of Title IX. So far, she has focused on “targeted populations” like the RAs’ and new students’ orientations. The plan is well on its way she says, pleased with the headway she has made thus far in training 1,500 to 1,800 students on campus. As it stands, when students face harassment or discrimination based on their gender, or sexual assault, Anna is the person that students meets with.
In her capacity as coordinator, she must be neutral. She does not advocate for the complainant or the respondent in any case. “I advocate for the process,” she says with her steady gaze and calm voice.
“Yes, I’m an advocate. But, I am also very skilled at remaining neutral and looking at the evidence to make assessments.” Anna admits that it can be difficult at times to remain composed when mediating cases because of her compassionate nature. “I don’t want to be confused about what my role is. I’m not a therapist,” she says. “If I can remember my role in a situation, which is the best way I can serve the person. I feel a lot of what the people are feeling when they’re sitting in front of me. But, my best way of being present, is to be compassionate yet clear.”
She recalls the difficulty in mediating cases involving the termination of parental rights for abuse and neglect. “I didn’t know how I was going to be able to sit across the table from perpetrators who had done horrible things to children. In their home.” She paused between words, choosing each word with care. “I didn’t know if I could find a way to do that, because it hit so close to home for me.” She halts her words for a moment, quietly fiddling with her glasses, and swiping a hand through her hair. “But, I was able to. I was able to have a soft heart.”
When she trained to be a mediator 9 years ago, she asked her professor what to do if she started crying. And she laughed as she recalled the professor’s response: “‘No, Anna, the mediator does not cry.’ I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do it. I cry at commercials, I see a bunny hop along and I cry,” she giggles.
As a mediator, Bartkowski says, “I can have just as much compassion for a victim of sexual assault as I can for a perpetrator.” She continues, “People who have been accused are also traumatized by the accusation and they come in with huge defenses and walls up. And if I can’t find the place in my heart to have compassion for them, then they’re not going to feel safe enough with me to be truthful and honest. I need them to be honest, they need [to be] in order to learn.” She says, her voice softening with each word, and a disarmingly open look in her eyes.
“That being said,” she says, picking up her glasses and twirling them around, “holding perpetrators accountable is really important.” She spears the air with the arm of her glasses as she speaks.
Bartkowski received a Bachelor of Business Administration, Management from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, TX in 1996 and a Master’s of Legal Studies from Texas State University in San Marcos, TX in 2007. Born and raised in Texas, she now lives 120 miles away from USF in Salinas, completing a sometimes seven hour commute, four days out of the week (she works from home on Wednesdays). As a single mom to two children, it has been difficult for her family, but she is confident in her choices. “I know in my heart of hearts that this is where I need to be,” she says.
She recalls a recent night after a long day, where she had enough of the constant intake of information. “This is where my mind is more than 8 hours a day, because I’m so in love with the topic, so I read about it all the time. And I’m reading this book at home—after a 4 hour commute—and I just kind of . . . I was done. I was like, I’m at home in my bed, my kids are finally asleep, and I don’t want to think about rape anymore. That’s it. I’m done with the rape and the raping of the people.” She shakes her head tiredly, her voice strained. But she rallies herself.
Bartkowski’s positive nature comes to the forefront, she says, despite the sometimes overwhelming sadness in the world. When she struggles with adversity, she pulls herself up. “I think we can’t sit for too long in the ‘why me?’ We need to move on to the ‘What’s next?’ We’ve got to brush off the dirt and keep truckin’ until the next thing comes and knocks us down.”