Listening sessions require action

Over the next three weeks, the Washington University Title IX Office and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center will host a series of listening sessions for students to raise their concerns with the way Wash. U. addresses instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence.

The Student Life editorial board applauds the University for taking steps to resolve some of the common complaints about the way cases are currently handled from a lack of sensitivity during investigations to the protracted length of time the investigation itself takes and we hope that administrators will take student input to heart and enact real change.

And if there’s ever a time to be willing to make drastic changes, it’s now.
It doesn’t get much worse than three federal Title IX investigations in one summer, especially in conjunction with the op-eds published in Student Life last school year that detailed how actions of the Title IX Office made victims feel “powerless and worthless.” The University has the opportunity to demonstrate a clear willingness to accept criticism, but it can’t be by simply scheduling meetings something real must come out of them.

The complaints brought to the Title IX office are, on a basic level, a matter of student safety. The University’s job is to protect its students, so what happens when that job isn’t fulfilled? When students choose to report to the school, they entrust those involved in the process—from Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy to the contracted investigators—with extremely sensitive and personal information, not to mention their confidence that the issue will be resolved.

Although the University’s current process has been selected over years of investigations, there are very clearly some issues along the way. In some cases, the process takes upwards of 120 days twice the 60-day guideline set by the Barack Obama administration “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011. Within the current Title IX process, there have been allegations of victim-blaming and a general shortcoming of accommodations and sensitivity when scheduling interviews and meetings, along with mishaps related to scheduling.

If administrators wants to change the student reaction to their actions, they can’t balk at the task of restructuring the processes put in place. For all the money, time and attention allocated to Title IX, things should be going better than they are now. This is more than just a public relations nightmare for the school—a lack of action on behalf of the University can turn into a physical manifestation of a nightmare for those affected.

This past week brought new concerns to the forefront of the nationwide conversation about Title IX investigations when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intention to review and rescind the current guidelines for on-campus sexual assault investigations established under President Barack Obama. While she has not directly stated what the forthcoming changes will be, DeVos cited a “lack of due process” for those accused of assault under the current system. Despite the lack of public concrete plans, we hope the University will make a promise to students not to tailor current policies to favor those accused and will instead maintain the balanced system it currently employs, which is supposed to wait until the completion of the investigation before passing judgment against either party involved.

As for students: If you have concerns, voice them. Register for the meetings. The University has said that if enough students show interest, they will schedule more. Make them do that. If you can’t attend or don’t feel comfortable going to the sessions, let them know that, too. This is not only an issue that impacts current students: Any changes that come out of this may positively impact future students, staff and faculty, as well. Change can’t only come from the top down. It has to start with the University community, first.