Caltech's Title IX Coordinator Hima Vatti Resigns

After nearly 4 years and 8 months, Hima Vatti has stepped down from her position as Caltech’s Assistant Vice President for Equity and Equity Investigations, and Title IX coordinator. Appointed on July 16, 2019 and stepping down on March 15, 2024, Vatti was Caltech’s longest serving Title IX coordinator.

According to an email sent to the Caltech community by Julia McCallin, the Chief Human Resource Officer, Ofelia Velazquez-Perez will serve as interim Title IX coordinator while a replacement is sought. Vatti leaves Caltech to become the University of La Verne’s General Counsel.

Before her tenure as Title IX coordinator, she spent nearly 10 years as Associate General Counsel, Litigation & Risk Management for Caltech and JPL, providing in-house legal counsel for these institutions.

Caltech’s Title IX office does not publish an annual report on Title IX-related statistics. Other colleges like MIT, Stanford, and the CSUs publish such reports, which contain information such as Title IX case outcome or case length statistics. Because of this, the Tech cannot evaluate how the office performed under Vatti.

However, Caltech’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report provides statistics for some Title IX-actionable crimes (e.g. stalking, dating violence, rape). No trends regarding the frequency of these crimes during Vatti’s time as Title IX coordinator could be confidently identified.

The Caltech Title IX office declined to comment on Vatti or the Title IX office during her time as the coordinator.

As the coordinator of the Title IX Office, Vatti helped train Title IX advocates and facilitate investigations into Title IX-actionable incidents, which regarded cases of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual violence, or hostile working environments. As such, Vatti has personally engaged with much of the Caltech community, many of whom were going through tough situations. The Tech interviewed some of these students who have interacted with her.

“[Vatti] almost functioned like a counselor the first two months of my breakup and was extremely nice and accommodating,” says Snigdha Saha (CS ‘24, Ricketts), who described to the Tech how Vatti helped guide her through her breakup.

However, when Saha’s situation eventually became a formal Title IX investigation, she noticed a change in Vatti’s demeanor. Saha notes, “[Vatti] seemed very compassionate until the case actually started, after which it felt far more rigid… I think she couldn’t balance the compassion with the rigidity.”

Title IX advocate and former Blacker president, Aditee Prabhutendolkar (CNS 24’, Blacker), describes Vatti as “always very professional and straightforward.” Prabhutendolkar had submitted a Title IX report and was disappointed by the lack of action resulting from the report. Though, she admits that Vatti had explained to her how hard it can be for the Title IX Office to pursue action, due to the amount of evidence needed.

But Prabhutendolkar was still disappointed with how slow Vatti communicated with her and other students involved with the report. “I don’t think [Vatti] following up slowly is excusable. I don’t understand why she couldn’t just send emails more quickly. That’s not something that policies limit her on,” says Prabhutendolkar.

“I think she was always very approachable, she cares, I think she actually really cares,” says Tanmay Gupta (Ph 24’ Lloyd), a Title IX advocate who had extensively interacted with Hima. “She was not there to cut you off or to even… invalidate your feelings.”

Gupta’s personal experiences with Vatti and the Title IX office have been positive, though he says that his “peers [who have interacted with the office] were very frustrated with her’’ due a lack of substantial action from the office and many delays. Vatti acknowledged complaints about the lack of action, and explained to him that “[the Title IX Office’s] hands are tied,” as “It takes a lot” for an incident to count as a Title IX offense, according to Title IX law.

Though, Gupta says the delays in communication between the office and students were a valid, inexcusable, issue. However, Gupta claims that this is not an issue unique to Vatti, but applies to the office as a whole.

The Tech also reached out to one student who was the subject of a report, but no formal complaint or investigation was pursued against them. They told us “I can’t say I knew [Vatti] much, but she was at least willing to check on me, months after we last talked. It cheered me up.”

Vatti leaves behind Caltech’s Title IX Office at a time where many students do not have confidence in the office, according to a campus-wide poll run by The Tech last term.

In this poll, 70% of participants (81 out of 115) scored the Office’s effectiveness a 1 or 2 on a scale ranging from 1 (“Not effective at all”) to 5 (“Extremely effective”).

Among those polled who had personally interacted with the Title IX Office, 59% (23 out of 39) chose a 1 or 2, when asked to rate how satisfied they were with their overall experience with the Office, on scale ranging from 1 (“Very unsatisfied”) to 5 (“Very satisfied”).

When asked if they thought the office processes cases within a reasonable timeframe, 70% chose a 1 or 2, on a scale ranging from 1 (“Strongly disagree”) to 5 (“Strongly agree”).

Other recent articles published in The Tech have also highlighted instances where individuals thought their cases were mishandled by the office, mainly because of delays and poor communication.

When Vatti took office, “she was very well aware of the reputation of the Title IX office, one of the things she wanted to do… was to change that,” according to Gupta. He cites a particular Title IX case that occurred before her time at the office, as one of the reasons for this negative reputation. This case is colloquially referred to by students as the “Lululemon” case.

According to publicly available legal documents from a 2019 lawsuit involving Caltech, in the “Lululemon” case, a female student was allegedly sexually assaulted by another student, then mistreated and intimidated by Caltech when she pursued an investigation. News of this case spread, resulting in a distrust of the Title IX office amongst much of the undergraduate population.

Gupta notes one of Vatti’s aspirations for the office, which he feels did not come to fruition: “I remember her saying she wants to do more to help people understand [how the Title IX office works], but I don’t think I ever saw it materialize.”

“There was a lot of distrust of the office, in large part because… of the… Lululemon scandal with Felicia [the Title IX Coordinator before Vatti],” says Winter Pearson (CNS 24’ Dabney), who was a Title IX advocate for 3 years. “And then there was some potential hope in having a different Title IX coordinator [Vatti].”

However, it seems like this hope has faded, as Pearson says “the belief that [interacting with the Title IX office] will actively negatively impact your life, and you should just handle it yourself… I think is becoming more and more prevalent across campus.”

“One of my hopes is that when we replace Hima, we replace her with someone who is better able to rebuild that trust [in the Title IX office],” they say.

“They will have their job cut out for them,” says Gupta, regarding Vatti’s future replacement. “Regaining trust is a hard thing to do. But I hope they can do it because it’s a very, very important issue on our campus.”