Sexual assault has been increasingly discussed on campuses across the United States, as repeat issues of sexual violence continue and schools try to find the best way to comply with Title IX.
In fact, when polling schools at the many NAFSA conference we visited, Title IX was on the forefront of many peoples’ minds. What’s the best way to meet our legal obligations? How can we put procedures in place that protect students? Can we (and should we) be doing more? These and other questions continued to resurface in our conversations, especially when trying to also deal with the complexity of international students in the mix.
Why all the attention?
It’s no surprise the amount of media attention schools are receiving when you consider the statistics:
1 out of every 5 women is sexually assaulted in college and in 75-80% of cases, she knew her attacker.
2014 Not Alone Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault
This, in conjunction with the legal obligation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, has made schools cautious about how to approach the topic of gender discrimination. We heard from a lot of you, and schools are working to actively protect their students from discrimination, but are running into hurdles on the best way to handle this. Since then, the water has only been further muddied.
Title IX – The Dear Colleague Letter Not So Enforceable
Back in 2011, a Dear Colleague Letter on Title IX was sent to schools who received Federal financial assistance by the Department of Education. This letter reminded schools that they must have at least one employee to help schools comply with their legal responsibilities under this Act. The letter stressed that every school must have a Title IX Coordinator who has been sufficiently trained and be given proper authority to oversee compliance. The letter further discussed ways to comply with Title IX, along with procedures that should be followed.
Many schools used this Dear Colleague Letter as the newly guiding document on how to avoid investigation – that was until a few weeks ago when the Department of Education said that this letter does not “carry the force of law”. This left many schools wondering, so what’s the overarching policy on compliance?
The Final Word – What is Enforceable
Unfortunately for schools, the Act is the only enforceable document, and all other guidance is just that – a set of recommendations on how to comply. This vague instruction, as some see it, is intentionally vague, so that schools are forced to apply the law in the strictest of applications, so that they do not end up on a list of education institutions that have open Title IX investigations going on.
We will continue to follow the discussion and debate surrounding Title IX, and would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts on Title IX and how it’s impacted your institution.