Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Understanding Title IX and Mandatory Reporting

Posted on November 12, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Johnna Ossie, Free Press News editor

Title IX has existed in the United States for over forty years, yet many students at USM have little to no idea what it means, or what rights they have as a result. A Free Press survey found that even the students who know the basics of what Title IX is don’t necessarily understand what rights they have or where to go to report a violation. Of twenty students polled in a 200-level women and gender studies class, fifteen of twenty said they knew what Title IX is, yet only 10 said they understood their rights under Title IX, and only seven reported they would know where to go on campus to report a Title IX violation.

Sarah Holmes is the Assistant Dean of Students and the Title IX Coordinator at USM. Holmes explained that Title IX laws were introduced in the 1970s as part of  federal legislation that focuses on sex-based discrimination. Though implemented in the 1970s, these laws were actually a part of the education component of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specifically, Title IX is a set of federal regulations passed as a part of the 1972 higher education amendments. 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.”

One of the original purposes of Title IX was to promote equality among student athletes, making sure that female athletes had equal access to resources and opportunities. When USM upgraded its baseball field, for instance,under Title IX it was required to also upgrade its softball field. Title IX extends far beyond sports, however, serving to protect students from any form of sex-based discrimination.

In 2011, the Department of Education distributed what’s referred to as a “Dear Colleague” letter, which put public colleges and universities on notice that sexual assault and sexual violence are a form of sex-based discrimination. If colleges and universities are not doing the work that they should be doing to change the climate that perpetuates or allows these acts on campus, they are in violation of the rights of their students and are perpetuation systems of sex discrimination.

Currently, there are over one hundred schools in the United States today being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX violations. Schools such as Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, Michigan State, University of California and many others made the list.

Under Title IX, all USM employees are considered mandated reporters. This means that if a student discloses that they have been the victim of sexual violence, are experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence or stalking, any USM employee they disclose that information to is required under law to report it to the Title IX coordinator, in this case, Sarah Holmes.

The Health and Counseling staff are not mandatory reporters. If a student wishes to disclose that they have experienced a Title IX violation to a confidential source, a staff person at the Health and Counseling Center would be the best option.

Once Holmes receives a report, she will reach out to the student through phone or e-mail, with her main goal being to provide support and resources. She emphasized that her focus is on supporting the student. She will attend counseling sessions with students if they feel more comfortable talking that way. Her goal is to give the survivor as much agency as possible.

“If at all possible I keep the survivor in the driver’s seat. Unless there’s a greater threat to campus safety, they aren’t forced to file a report,” she said.

Holmes explained that a “greater threat to campus safety” would mean multiple reports filed about a particular person on campus, or multiple reports filed surrounding a particular place on campus, such as a particular dorm.

A large part of Holmes’ job as the Title IX Coordinator is to help the student as much as possible with access to resources and assistance. She also helps to implement safety plans for the affected student, such as helping them switch classes if the perpetrator is in a class with the victim, helping a student find new housing. She may also work with students and professors to help create plans for a student to finish classwork, or anything else the student may need assistance with on campus with regards to the Title IX violation that took place.

So why do so few students understand Title IX and mandatory reporting? Holmes explained that USM is still navigating the process of helping students and helping understand everything they need to know.

Rodney Mondor, director of Transitional Programs and New Student Orientation, said that Title IX is covered in new student orientation, as well as their rights under Title IX and how to report a violation. It seems staff are working to help students understand Title IX. Why, then, are students so unsure of the their right and how to access resources?

“We never know how we’re going to respond to something until the unthinkable happens,” Holmes said. Her job is to do her best to help students navigate through what to do if the unthinkable happens. Under Title IX, the university’s job should be to help stop the unthinkable from happening in the first place.

Students who wish to learn more about their rights under Title IX can visit knowyourix.org or usm.maine.edu/campussafetyproject.

 

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