Title IX: How It Affects Community Colleges and Students
Every college campus has a feel, an atmosphere, that is all its own. Having spent the last 16 years working in metropolitan community colleges, I have had the opportunity to see all types of students interact with one another in that atmosphere, as well as with faculty and staff from all backgrounds. All students are on campus to learn, and when the learning mission is disrupted, it's important to know two things: why it was interrupted and how the college can stop the interference from reoccurring. One issue facing today's college campuses is how to comply with federal Title IX guidelines. Since the release of the April 2011 Dear Colleague letter by the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, colleges and universities have been challenged with understanding its implications and how it applies to campuses. Once considered as a means of leveling the playing field for female student athletes, Title IX has, in recent years, been a hot button for both public and private institutions.
As many of us are aware, sexual violence on America's college campuses is a serious health and safety problem that must be immediately and effectively addressed. It is estimated that one in five women in the U.S. are sexually assaulted during their college years (Kessler, 2014). Sexual violence can impact anyone, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. In the great majority of cases, individuals are assaulted by someone they know and even trust, whether as an acquaintance, classmate, friend, or current or former partner. Of those assaults, it is estimated that only 12 percent are reported, and only a fraction of the offenders are held accountable (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2014). The advent of social media and the rights of the victim have led to an increased emphasis on this problem, showing all of us in higher education that the rules of the game have changed.
In response to this growing problem, North Lake College (NLC) in Irving, Texas, has created a comprehensive plan for faculty, staff, and students regarding Title IX guidelines. Ninety-five colleges and universities (including three community colleges) are currently under federal investigation over concerns about how they handle sexual assault cases on campus (Kingkade, 2015). This apparent lack of understanding schools have in regard to Title IX enforcement is alarming, and now is the time that sexual assaults are treated like they should be: as egregious illegal acts that will not be tolerated. North Lake College's comprehensive plan to educate faculty, staff, and students about Title IX guidelines is one focused on appropriate conduct, grievance procedures, and training modules, allowing for true collaboration among campus administration, faculty, and students. With this collaboration, North Lake has gone beyond theory and created something that has true substance, serves a needed purpose, and can serve as a model which can be replicated at other community colleges.
Title IX History
On June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity and provides individual citizens effective protection against those practices (U.S. Department of Justice, 2015). At the time, the aim was to level the playing field for female athletes who did not have the same athletic privileges in higher education as their male counterparts (Fletcher, Benshoff, & Richburg, 2003). The Title IX Amendments apply to all public and private educational institutions that receive federal funds, i.e., recipients, including, but not limited to, elementary and secondary schools, school districts, proprietary schools, colleges, and universities. The education program or activity of a school includes all of the school's operations. This means that Title IX protects students in connection with all academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs of the school, whether they take place in the facilities of the school or elsewhere.
The days of using Title IX only as a means to assure fairness on the athletic playing field are over. Incidents can and do occur in various campus environments, not just athletic dorms or frat houses. Many community colleges do not have campus housing, or even organized athletic teams. That, however, does not mean they are immune from Title IX violations, or any other types of sexual assault or harassment. The location of the occurrence is not limited to a building or space, but encompasses an environment. According to an Office for Civil Right's Dear Colleague Letter:
When a student sexually harasses another student, the harassing conduct creates a hostile environment if the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the school's program. The more severe the conduct, the less need there is to show a repetitive series of incidents to prove a hostile environment, particularly if the harassment is physical. (U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2011, para. 6)
The Revised Sexual Harassment Guidelines, published by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights state that an educational institution must take action to respond to sexual harassment that is so severe and pervasive that it deprives or limits the victim's enjoyment of educational rights, privileges, advantages, or opportunities (2001). The Department of Education calls for schools to use a preponderance of evidence standard in adjudicating cases, meaning that an incident is more likely than not to have happened (Lauerman, 2014). The policy means whenever a victim's word is slightly more credible than an offender's denial, the school must take some action. Gone are the rigid, difficult-to-investigate days that one needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an assault occurred. Title IX is not a court of law, but it is an enforcement mechanism designed to ensure the law is followed.
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is the landmark federal law that requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. The law is tied to an institution's participation in federal student financial aid programs and it applies to most institutions of higher education, both public and private (Clery, 2008). Enacted in 1990, Clery requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. Clery was amended in 2008 to include the requirement of published policies to address dealing with registered sex offender notification and campus emergency response. The 2008 amendments also added a provision to protect crime victims, whistleblowers, and others from retaliation (Cleary, 2008). The Campus SaVE Act, enacted in March 2013, amends the Clery Act, which requires campuses to provide annual statistics on incidents of campus crimes, including sexual assaults occurring on campus and reported to campus authorities or local police (American Council on Education, 2014). The SaVE Act broadens this requirement to mandate full reporting of sexual violence, including incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. It also addresses how to recognize warning signs of abusive behavior and avoid potential attacks, as well as safe and positive bystander interventions to prevent harm or intervene in risky situations.
But what is a crime without punishment? What can the government do as a result of a failure to adequately enforce Title IX regulations? In actuality, quite a bit. To prove an individual cause of action for monetary damages, a defendant must show that a school had actual knowledge of a violation and showed deliberate indifference toward the claim (Kingkade, 2015). The U.S. Supreme Court has held that Title IX can impose damage liability on school authorities when a school official with authority to take corrective measures has actual knowledge of the harassment and fails to take appropriate action (Lassow, 2004). This also includes peer-on-peer harassment when said harassment was so severe, persuasive, and objectively offensive that it could be said to deprive the victim of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.
One Campus's Approach
North Lake College has joined a national sexual violence education and prevention effort to dramatically change the way we think about and respond to campus sexual violence. Through a collaborative effort between the Counseling Center, Police Department, Student Life Office, and Title IX Coordinator, NLC has developed a multi-tiered approach to addressing sexual violence on college campuses. This approach starts with having all Title IX and sexual harassment information prominently placed on our campus webpage. Embedded in this information is our Title IX intake/complaint form, which allows staff and students to submit information to the Title IX Coordinator. Included in this form are appropriate jurisdiction-based definitions to assist the complainant with the intake process. The form is easy to follow and lists steps and guidelines for investigation, reporting, and adjudication of complaints. In addition, all faculty and staff are asked to attend a Title IX information session each semester as part of our Blue/Green Back to Class week presentations. Starting in the fall of 2015, both groups will take part in mandatory Title IX awareness and reporting training. The training is done in person in a classroom setting, using handouts and PowerPoints. The presentations are also available online via our campus website. In addition, before each semester begins, new-to-college students are given in-person Title IX training during mandatory orientation. During that session, members of collaborative partnerships discuss such items as self-defense, bystander awareness, sexual harassment, and reporting procedures. Along with webinars created and sponsored by such groups as AXITA and Rave Mobile Safety, campus staff have the opportunity to attend the University of North Texas's Higher Education Law Workshop, conducted in the spring. It is a premier source for Title IX information and updates, specifically sexual violence prevention and handling.
Aside from the Title IX Coordinator, Student Services and the Instructional Division provide two other investigators. The Deans of our Educational Divisions have been designated as Campus Security Authorities (CSAs) for the purpose of reporting Title IX incidents to the Coordinator. In addition, in the summer of 2015, the Title IX Coordinator and designated investigators will attend the AXITA Title IX Coordinators and Investigators National Training. This comprehensive course is focused broadly on the role of Title IX Coordinators, all aspects of Title IX and VAWA/Clery compliance, oversight of investigations, and more. Two of the nation's leading Title IX experts serve as faculty to convey what every campus Title IX Coordinator needs to know to do that job and do it well. As an institution committed to providing a safe and discrimination free environment for the purpose of educational exchange, NLC is committed to creating an environment free of harassment and discrimination by not only creating awareness of the dangers of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, but also providing guidance, feedback, and recourse for students who have been subjected to unwanted advances, discrimination, or harassing behavior.
Sexual assault is a severely violating experience that can cause a victim substantial immediate and long-term physical and mental health repercussions. These assaults must end, and that will require our collective focus locally and nationally. Sexual violence isn't a private matter involving a victim and a perpetrator. We all share responsibility to create a campus environment where sexual violence will not be tolerated. The first step is to raise awareness and hold everyone accountable for stopping assaults, supporting victims, and creating and maintaining a culture of respect and non-violence. It's on each of us.
American Council on Education. (2014). New requirements imposed by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Retrieved from http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/VAWA-Summary.pdf
Clery Center for Security on Campus (Clery). (2008). Summary of the Jeanne Clery Act. Retrieved from http://clerycenter.org/summary-jeanne-clery-act
Fletcher, T. B., Benshoff, J. M., Richburg, M. J. (2003). A systems approach to understanding and counseling college student-athletes. Journal of College Counseling, 6(1), 35-45.
Kessler, G. (2014, May 1). One in five women in college sexually assaulted: The source of this statistic. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/05/01/one-in-five-women-in-college-sexually-assaulted-the-source-of-this-statistic/
Kingkade, T. (2014, April 6). 106 colleges are under federal investigation for sexual assault cases. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/colleges-federal-investigation-title-ix-106_n_7011422.html
Lassow, D. (2004). In support of a new civil rights act. Human Rights Magazine, 31(3). Retrieved from http://www.americanbar.org/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/human_rights_vol31_2004/summer2004/irr_hr_summer04_su.html
Lauerman, J. (2014, June 23). Campus sex assault complaints languish as U.S. delays mount. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-06-24/campus-sex-assault-complaints-languish-as-u-s-delays-mount
U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). Overview of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/cor/coord/titleix.php
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2001, January 19). Revised sexual harassment guidance: Harassment of students by school employees, other students, or third parties, Title IX. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. (2011, April 4). Dear colleague letter. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2014, September 19). Remarks by the President at "It's On Us" campaign rollout. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/19/remarks-president-its-us-campaign-rollout
Kent Seaver is Director of Learning Resources at North Lake College in Irving, Texas.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.