Title IX: A Call to Action

By Jordan Babin, Elizabeth Belanger and Laura Kovach

On Wednesday May 6th, the Department of Education released their new guidance on Title IX. This new guidance dictates an inaccessible and re-traumatizing process for survivors of sexual violence seeking action and support. To better understand what these changes to Title IX are, let’s first talk about its initial purpose.

Title IX – A History
Title IX was passed by Congress in 1972 to ensure equality in every person’s educational environment. Before Title IX existed, women were often excluded from, or had limited access to educational programs. Since 1972, it has expanded to include protections for transgender and gender queer students, and pregnant and parenting students. For many years, Title IX was known for bringing gender equity into the realm of sports, as it was meant to provide equitable opportunities in sports for women, as compared to their male counterparts.

Now, Title IX is well-known as a broader piece of legislation that emphasizes student safety, specifically involving sexual Violence and sexual Harassment. At it’s core, sexual harassment and sexual assault are about power and control – those who perpetrate harm use sexual harassment and sexual assualt to control, harm and threaten others. Title IX requires that school environments be safe and free from harassment and abuse, on the basis that these acts of violence are a form of sex discrimination.

The bottom line: Your learning environment is unsafe and compromised if sexual violence, harm, and harassment pushes you out of school programs, the classroom, or any space where students socialize or congregate.

Sexual Violence & Harassment – Prevalence & Impact
Unfortunately, sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses is not new. For decades students have endured harassment, abuse and harm at the hands of staff, faculty and other students. To give you an idea of how many students are affected by sexual violence by the time they graduate. Prevalence rates have remained consistent with 1 in 4 women and 1 in 16 men experiencing some form of sexual assault before they graduate college. The LGBTQ community experiences the highest rates of harm on college campuses according to surveys administered by the American Association of Universities.

Survivors’ educational experiences are completely uprooted due the trauma they experience. Many have experienced even more trauma at the hands of their institution or K-12 school. In response to these experiences, many survivors take a leave of absence or withdrawal from school thus shutting them out of the learning environment altogether.

The Good
Title IX is a force for good. The 2011 Title IX guidance administered by the Obama Administration marked significant progress toward a safer and more equitable educational environment. We witnessed Title IX hold institutions like Penn State, Michigan State, USC and others accountable for their inaction and harmful practices. Through a combination of Title IX and the VAWA Campus Save Act, survivors were able to access resources and an improved adjudication process.

The Bad & Ugly
In 2017 all of our progress came to a crashing halt with a new administration determined to roll back the 2011 guidance that created a more fair and accessible process. The Title IX changes released on May 6 by the Department of Education dictates that schools must adjust their policies accordingly by August 14. Know Your IX, a non-profit on the front lines of this issue, has released an explanation of all the guidance changes. For more in-depth information about these changes we recommend you refer to their website. These changes will impact survivors of sexual violence and harassment, and it is increasingly important that we come together as a community to fight for equity and safety in our educational spaces. All students deserve to learn in a space free from sexual violence and harassment.

What Now?
In this moment, as advocates, educators, and community members, it can feel overwhelming and helpless. But it is important to remember that we have been here before, so we know how to respond in the face of uncertainty and pushback. As a community, there is a lot that we can still do to support survivors and all students who may face harm in their educational spaces. In the face of injustice it is important that we, as a community, answer that call to action.
JCADA has created a list of resources and ideas so that we can continue to support survivors, educate the community and hold perpetrators accountable.

1. Learn more about Title IX. We encourage you to read about this historic legislation and understand how critical it is to have fair guidance that does not put restrictions on survivors ability to access resources and a safe judicial process.

2. Support organizations in your community who are working with survivors, writing policy and educating about sexual assault prevention.

3. Contact your University. If you are an alumna/i you have the right to know how your University will respond to the new guidance and continue to support survivors.

4. Contact local campuses. If there is a local campus community in your area please reach out and engage them in thoughtful dialogue about how they can continue to care for survivors and engage in prevention strategies.

5. Contact your local officials. Share with them how you feel about the new guidance and find out what can be done at Congressional level. In this moment with your Congressperson’s office you can also advocate for the re-authoriziton of the Violence against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act.

6. Vote! Are you registered to vote? Find candidates who support the repeal of this new guidance and support VAWA and VOCA.

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