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USU President Announces Changes To Sexual Assault, Discrimination Policy In Light Of Investigation

USU President Noelle Cockett discussing results of an independent investigation of the school's Piano Program
Dani Hayes
USU President Noelle Cockett discussing results of an independent investigation of the school's Piano Program

In light of multiple social media claims of sexual assault and discrimination in a university music program, officials from Utah State University hired an outside organization to investigate. 

USU President Noelle Cockett held a media conference in the Tippets Gallery on the Logan campus on Friday. She wanted to discuss recommendations laid out in the organization's report that investigated sexual assault and discrimination claims in the school’s Piano Program.

A few months ago, several former students of the program claimed on social media that there were occurrences of sexual assault, harassment and gender discrimination. According to the report, much of the discrimination came from Professor Gary Amano. It said he created a hostile academic environment for women, discriminated based on gender and tolerated sexual harassment of students by faculty members.

“On Monday, April 2, Professor Amano submitted a letter announcing his retirement, effective that day,” Cockett said. “Professor Romano is no longer working at Utah State University.”

Cockett talked about each recommendation given by the report. The first being the removal of Amano and the next is the removal of Piano Program Coordinator Dennis Hirst, who is said to have enabled Amano and failed to report his behavior.

“Professor Hirst has been removed as the piano program coordinator,” Cockett said. “The university will also move forward with a sanctioned process against Professor Hirst. The recommended outcome of the sanction is being determined.”

The report also recommends the creation of a plan to eliminate gender discrimination. Many of the claims made toward Amano were related to his favoritism toward male students by telling students that males make better piano players because of their strong upper bodies and larger hands. It was also reported that he would give better performance opportunities to the male students since they were likely to become the “breadwinners” for future families.

President Cockett says a taskforce will be created in the next two weeks to combat the issue of gender discrimination at the university.

Many of the changes anticipated from the report’s recommendations will deal with university-wide policy and procedure revision, and reorganizing the university’s Title IX office.

“As a final note,” Cockett said, “our faculty and staff are deeply dedicated to our students’ health, safety and wellbeing. However, this report outlines a culture of discrimination, which is a form of power imbalance.  In addition to empowering our students to demand action, I am also empowering our faculty and staff to demand an end to power imbalance, when they observe it, and when they are subject to it.”

Near the end of the press conference, Cockett stated that she is grateful to be in a position to make change.

“This is me, I’m a fixer, and I’m dedicated to our students’ success,” she said. “I feel like this is my call to action, I think this is exactly why I’m in this office, and I don’t intend to fail.”