Ronette Sutton Garber
Ronette Sutton Gerber’s typical day often involves dealing with highly emotional, stressful situations. She’s the new Director of Title IX and Clery Act at UNC-Pembroke. As such, all incidents of sexual harassment are handled by her.
Students who report misconduct go to her. Students who respond to the reports have to talk to her to. Everything the 49-year-old lawyer has done in her life has prepared her for these moments.
“I have to help both sides through this process,” Gerber said in an interview. “And make sure it was fair.”
Gerber took her new job in 2014, making Pembroke the first UNC campus to merge the roles into one.
Her background as a lawyer and degree in Public Administration prepared her for maintaining balance in difficult cases. Her history at Pembroke made her a natural fit on campus.
The Director of Title IX and Clery Act is hard to miss. Even though she has a petite build, her pantsuit with the Title IX broche pinned to the jacket, intelligent eyes and determined look make her seem all-business.
As a colleague, Gerber is appreciated. Joshua Malcolm worked with her for six years in the General Counsel’s office.
“Ronette is a highly capable, competent person. And she was uniquely qualified, not only for the General Counsel where she started as assistant and later associate, but especially as the director of Title IX and Clery,” Malcom explained.
Gerber works 24/7. She intently posted her cell number on UNCP’s website to ensure people can always reach her. She even brings her policy from school back home. That shows in what she talks about with her own children.
“My oldest is 15 and his brother is 14, and I ask them what kind of man they want to be, when it comes to integrity,” she said.
Her dedication is not lost on the people around her.
“Among our peers, I would argue, Ronette Sutton Gerber is setting the standard when it comes to the Title IX processing and reporting,” Malcolm said.
She always wanted to be a lawyer. In fifth grade, she went on a school trip when she was going to school in Jacksonville, Florida. She went to a courthouse and into a courtroom to hear a trial. “I remember sitting there thinking: “this is what I wanted to do.”
“It is that sense of right and wrong, in a very simplistic, black and white, good and bad, I want to prosecute the bad people and make sure everyone follows the law kind of way,” she said with a shimmer in her eyes. Even as a fifth grader, she had a strong sense of justice.
Gerber did her undergraduate at UNCP, or as it was called in those days: Pembroke State. She got a degree in History in 1989.
“I always wanted to be an attorney, but I also love history. Plus, I couldn’t get my law degree at Pembroke State.”
She went to Chapel Hill for her graduate degree. She graduated in 1992 with a master in Public Administration, after that, she stayed at Chapel Hill and got her law degree in 1997.
Even now she studies History at NC State.
“I hope to do good outside of my work here by sharing my love of History through teaching one day.”
Gerber will investigate any breach of the civil rights granted in Title IX. She will talk to both parties and try to do an unbiased investigation.
“That is how I see my role here. I have to help both sides through this process, and make sure it was fair,” she says with conviction.
As the Title XI coordinator, it is her job to do a civil investigation into any complaint. This, she does regardless of any criminal investigation that is done by the police.
“All my files can be subpoenaed for use in a criminal case by the D.A. but so far this has never happened.”
There is always one thing she always hopes for in a case: that in the end both parties can earnestly say: “she listened to me, she heard me and she was fair.”
If she succeeds in that, no matter how horrible her day was, she can go home and think: “I have had a good day.”
Gerber works in the same hallway as the Chancellor’s office. She wants to move because people reporting misconduct shouldn’t have to wait in the same room as the guests of the chancellor.
“That situation helps no one,” Gerber decided.
Her office is equipped for people telling difficult stories. She has stuffed animals and blankets because sometimes people just want to hold on to something.
“I had a girl in my office that was practically ripping out her fingernails, since then I brought stuffed animals in my office,” she said.
Not every student will meet Ronette Sutton Gerber. Even fewer students will meet her regarding sexual harassment.
But those that do will get a representative who says she is determined to be fair, professional and dedicated.