Updated: Jul 21
June 23, 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of America’s federal civil rights law, Title IX.
Although known for its significance in the world of women’s sports, the law protects much more than just equal access to training facilities and coaching in schools. The law states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Title IX is an anti-discrimination law, which includes sex-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. As we prepare for the upcoming school year, we approach a time in American colleges called “the red zone”, a time spanning the first week of the fall semester to Thanksgiving break where more than 50% of all college sexual assaults are found to occur. Kenyora Lenair Parham (she/her), Executive Director of End Rape on Campus, joins us in our discussion, telling us “as students returned to campus for the first time in the Fall of 2021, we were in the midst of the ‘double red zone’ that was intensified by the number of students (both freshmen and sophomores who didn’t have the in-person experience) arriving on college campuses for the first time following the COVID-19 school closures from the year before”. More than ever, now is a time to know your rights under Title IX, as the law continues to change, and as the rest of America shifts towards a time where the law fails to protect women and girls.
What does Title IX do?
Kenyora tells us,
“Schools must uphold a learning environment that is equitable for all students, regardless of and with respect to their gender identity”.
Over the past couple of decades, students experiencing sexual violence have used Title IX as a tool for accountability and support, Kenyora says, furthermore highlighting “Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Education made major strides to strengthen Title IX protections for survivors, including clarifying for schools their responsibilities under Title IX as it relates to sexual assault prevention and survivor support.” Sexual harassment in Title IX, since the 2020 changes, is defined as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is ‘so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive’ that it effectively denies a person equal access to education”. Title IX’s description of sexual violence is notoriously ambiguous and subject to change although its definitions are supposed to follow those of the Clery’s Act.
Under Title IX, schools are legally required to respond and resolve hostile educational environments. The perpetrator can be students, employees, or third parties, but only if the respondent is currently enrolled or employed by the school. If schools fail to respond to valid reports, they are violating Title IX and are at risk of losing their federal funding.
Every educational institution that does receive federal funding must have a Title IX coordinator - this is who you should report any incidents of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual violence to. Your coordinator is responsible for ensuring your school is compliant with Title IX which includes making sure you receive a proper investigation and disciplinary process. Both the Clery Act and Title IX rule require school employees that address sexual violence complaints to have appropriate training - they should be able to inform you of your rights; for example the option to request confidentiality and available confidential advocacy, counselling, or other support services. Once a report is filed, Title IX automatically protects you from retaliation (harassment, intimidation, or discrimination).
IMAGE CREDIT: HANNA BARCZYK
Schools are required to adopt and make available a clear grievance procedure outlining the complaint, investigation, and disciplinary process for addressing the report. Schools must uphold students’ right to a timely and trauma-informed investigation, as 39% of survivors who reported sexual violence to their schools had their educational experience remarkably disrupted. Additionally, as part of this procedure, students are not required to use - and should not by any means be pressured - into informal methods of grievance resolution.
In short, Kenyora says Title IX’s purpose is “holding institutions accountable for preventing sexual violence and ensuring the students who are sexually assaulted can continue their education”.
What happened in 2020?
“Under the Trump Administration in 2020, the Department of Education led by former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, rolled back projections by rescinding guidance documents and revising Title IX regulations with a new rule that is harmful to student survivors' rights and campus safety”, Kenyora explained.
Around 84.4% of students live off campus, and rates of assault are an estimated five times higher in study abroad program, however Title IX no longer protects any sort of sexual violence (this including stalking and intimate partner violence) that occurs off school property.
It does not matter if the perpetrator is currently enrolled or employed at your school - you only have a right to open a complaint if the event occurred on campus. If you are able to report an incident, you no longer have a right to a timely investigation - the new rule removed the 60 day requirement for investigation, as well as permitting informal resolutions. Now with the reality of a long, drawn out investigative process, and the option to quickly resolve the incident informally, it simply discourages victims to report anything at all when they are at risk of disrupting their studies for a prolonged period, and could be pressured into informal resolution.
An aspect of the new rule that arguably discourages survivors the most is the live hearing and cross-examination process. Colleges must provide a live hearing to adjudicate sexual assault complaints - where in most venues, the victim can be cross-examined by their rapists’ parents, friends, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, and even the rapist themselves.
What the Biden Administration is Doing
March 8th, 2022, the Biden administration set out an executive order to review the previous changes made under Betsy Devos. Secretary Miguel Cardona made clear:
“Our goal is to give full effect to the law’s reach and to deliver on its promise to protect all students from sex-based harassment and discrimination. Every student deserves to learn free from discrimination and harassment, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Title IX is to now bar schools from discriminating against transgender, pregnant, and parenting students. For LGBTQ+ students, this includes the right to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, ban bullying based on their gender identity, and ensure they are addressed by their correct pronouns. Legal protection for LGBTQ+ students is needed and long overdue - 73% of LGBTQ college students have been sexually harassed, compared to 61% of non-LGBTQ students. 75.2% of undergraduate and 69.4% of graduate/professional students who identify as transgender, queer, and gender nonconforming reported being sexually harassed.
IMAGE CREDIT: GG DEPUTY PHOTOGRAPHY AND ILLUSTRATIONS MANAGER DOROTA DZIKI (@drawing_dorota)
Another positive update that we are aware of is the decision to remove live hearings - it is now up to the college to decide, but it is not required, and it is not essential to a fair procedure. As of right now, there is no motion to eliminate informal resolutions.
“These proposed Title IX regulations are a crucial step towards making campuses safer for all students,” Kenyora starts,
“Yet, we have to give credit where credit is due: and that is as a result of students and advocates across the country making their voices heard. As a result of their efforts, the proposed Title IX rule return to a more inclusive sedition sexual assault, improve sexual assault investigation procedures, and set up a whole new order of protection for student survivors at the intersections of their identities”.
Statistics regarding sexual violence on campus are still unacceptably high, and will remain unacceptable until no student experiences violence during their educational experience.
Kenyora tells us; “In the United States more than 20% of women, 14% of men, and 25% of trans and gender non-conforming students will experience sexual assault during their time at college. These rates are disproportionately higher for students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ and undocumented students. Student survivors are more likely to experience a decline in academic performance that can lead to financial aid and scholarship loss, academic probation, taking time off and dropping out, and a long-term impact on employment and graduate school opportunities”.
It is worth noting some of the changes happening around the world, as students are raising their voices and as a result creating lasting impacts. “Our partners at the Crowd Counting Consortium have tracked more than 400 protests this past academic year. We also joined our coalition partners to launch #EDActNow, a campaign and petition signed by more than 55,000 students, parents, lawyers, and advocates calling on the U.S. Department of Education to restore student survivors’ rights and make schools safer by restoring Title IX to its original purpose”, Kenyora states.
Can’t Buy My Silence has made groundbreaking impacts in the UK and Canada. As of July 2022, Can’t Buy My Silence got dozens of UK universities to pledge against the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence complainants in sexual harassment cases - these schools including Goldsmiths, University of London, Durham University, Solent University, University of York, BIIM Institute.
IMAGE: UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Following the efforts made by Can’t Buy My Silence, we have seen the Canadian province Prince Edward Island recently pass their 2021 bill to ban the misuse of NDAs - this covering sexual harassment but also cases involving racism, pregnancy discrimination, and bullying. The bill has been introduced in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and outside of Canada in Ireland, Wales, and England.
Biden’s Title IX suggestions have not been finalised as of yet. Additionally, there is the pending legislation Title IX Take Responsibility Act of 2021 . This law would hold educational institutions accountable for mishandling of sexual assault reports and failing to prevent further assaults. There is a lot to look out for in terms of legal updates, but there is a bigger picture above that of the law. Britni de la Cretaz writes in her piece on Title IX and sports culture, “No structural reform means more opportunities for abuse. A focus on quotas, monetary investments, scholarship slots, locker-room access—the tangible, concrete parts of athletics—don’t do anything to change sports culture”. The same can be said about rape culture on campus. Prevention and education matters in stopping this violence. Kenyora emphasises, “We need a survivor-centred, trauma-informed, and intersectional Title IX rule that puts student survivors’ rights and protections first”. If we cannot rely on the law, we have to rely on each other, not only by spreading awareness but by acting in ways of sympathy and kindness towards survivors - and yourself.
Resources, Support, and Ways to Help
Join the End Rape on Campus Reform Title IX campaign where they are collecting signatures for people to join their comment to submit to the Department of Education about the proposed Title IX rules
Join the EROC Student Survivor Caucus program for “knowledge, tools, and skills to mobilize and hold their assailant and school accountable” - applications open the week of July 25th, 2022
For more information and initiatives surrounding Title IX - https://www.knowyourix.org/
RAINN (US) - National Hotline 800-565-HOPE
The Survivors Trust (US) - Free helpline: 08088 010818
Anti-Violence Project (LGBTQ+ and US based) - Free helpline: 212-714-1141
NHS (UK) - Help after rape and sexual assault
Victim Support (UK) - Supportline: 0845 30 30 900
The blog was written and researched by Rebecca Yates, July 2022.
Top image credit: CHELSEA GUGLIELMINO/GETTY IMAGES, ANNA BUCKLEY/HELLOGIGGLES