WU holds Title IX listening session in response to recent policy adjustments

| Senior News Editor

Washington University held a listening session to gather feedback on the recent updates to the Title IX policy Wednesday, Sept. 12.

The updated policy was released on Sept. 4 in response to demands made by Title Mine, a student activism group focusing on Title IX reform, last semester.

The session, facilitated by Provost Holden Thorp and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White, was held in Umrath Lounge at 8 p.m. In addition to Thorp and White, administrators including Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy, Director of the Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center Kim Webb and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Rob Wild were present to respond to questions.

While the listening session was well-attended when it began, a separate listening session with Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life Austin Sandoval-Sweeney was scheduled for 8:45 p.m. to discuss the new Greek life policies pertaining to social events. Multiple students brought up the issue, arguing that the topics of sexual assault and Greek life are often intertwined and that students should have had the option to attend both. As time passed, many students left the Title IX session.

White apologized for the overlap, stating that she was not aware that the other meeting was taking place the same night.

“[Sandoval-Sweeney] and I should have been in communication with each other, and had I known that there was an important meeting at 8:45, I would have been able to adjust,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened that way.”

The session began with Thorp acknowledging the work of Title Mine students, and afterwards moved into a presentation from White on the timeline of the Title Mine movement, as well as a brief summary of the updated policy.

“I like that the administration gave a quick info session about the policy changes that were made and then opened the floor to feedback,” junior Title Mine organizer Luka Cai said.

After the presentation, the facilitators opened the floor to audience members for questions. They brought up topics including, but not limited to, resources available for graduate students, resident advisers being responsible employees, off-campus incidents, national policy changes, coordination with other campus organizations, representation within the newly-conceived programs, prevention measures and future methods of feedback beyond the listening session.

The facilitators acknowledged that graduate students face different issues, such as power dynamics and fear within the workplace, that have not been addressed by the Title IX updates. However, graduate students are still covered by Title IX, which led to a discussion of graduate students being more involved with both the Title Mine movement as well as the University’s process.

They also clarified some of the specific policy questions that were posed. Despite Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to sexual assault policy, the University will not follow any guidelines unless they are required to.

“So far, from what we have seen from the new guidelines, nothing requires us to change,” Thorp said. “My prediction is that most schools will take the same stance that we did, but that remains to be seen.”

This means that the University will continue to cover off-campus incidents of sexual assault. This policy tied into the discussion of the new Greek life policy, which some students feel will “draw high-risk situations off-campus.”

There were also many questions relating to the logistics of the peer consulting program, which will operate through the Title IX Office.

“One of the most heartening things about the session for me, is that there were some really good ideas and important questions asked about the peer consultants group that we’re creating,” Kennedy said. “I’m hoping the students will want to be involved in the creation of that.”

White believes that the variety of questions asked were helpful in determining where the University should place its focus.

“I think students brought up some really good ideas and suggestions, from how we might develop this peer consulting program to the additional training we should do to involving more graduate students,” White said.

The facilitators, as well as students, felt that the meeting went well.

“When we tried to do these listening sessions before, we really couldn’t get very many people to come out to it,” Thorp said. “I think that the reason this worked well is because this is something Title Mine asked us for—they were a big driver of it, and it makes sense that we were able to get a lot of students out tonight rather than something that the administrators were [structuring].”

“I’m thrilled with the turnout tonight,” Kennedy said. “I do understand that there was a competing event, but I’m very happy that so many students were able to make it to this session and ask us some really important questions.”

The University plans to meet with Title Mine organizers to collaborate on the recommendations where student input is needed, such as the peer consulting program and the website layout.

“For me, the listening sessions reinforced how important student feedback and collaboration is for all of the things that we want to do going forward,” White said. “I hope that students commit to being involved and help us shape these ideas going forward.”

Title Mine organizer Luka Cai felt that the town hall structure of the listening session worked well for both the administration and the attendees.

“I think [the turnout] shows the power of having these open feedback sessions. It shows that people care; and when given the platform, people have things to say,” Cai said. “We were originally worried that nobody would show up, partly because the report was so dense and technical, but we were so heartened to see the people who care about issues of sexual assault on campus at differing levels of familiarity with Title IX process showed up.”

While the session produced a lot of feedback, some attendees made suggestions about the structure and planning. Among these recommendations was an anonymous platform, such as a texting line, for people who are not comfortable speaking in front of the group.

“As somebody from the audience suggested, there should be an anonymous platform for people to submit questions via text so that people who don’t feel comfortable raising questions so publicly can be given the space to do that,” Cai said. “In all forms of civic engagement, often people who are the most eloquent or have the cultural capital to engage are privileged in these spaces.”

Kennedy also emphasized the importance of anonymous feedback.

“[One of our goals] is to allow for more anonymous and direct feedback to be provided through the [Title IX] website so that students who don’t want to attend a listening session or who have an immediate thought and can’t wait for a listening session can provide that information that way,” she said.

White took notes during the meeting, but some attendees felt that it would have been productive to project the minutes onto the screen for everyone to view so that the whole audience could see what was being written down and correct any misinterpretations on the spot.

Lastly, the issue of timing and scheduling with the Greek life listening session was brought up again at the end of the meeting.

“I think the biggest issue was the timing, because it was scheduled at the same time as the town hall on controversial Greek life policy changes and fraternity bid voting, which eliminated a lot of people from coming who probably would have wanted to,” Title Mine organizer Mira Reed-Twiss said.

Despite these issues, attendees felt that the session was a positive step, and Title Mine organizers look forward to seeing how this feedback plays into the University’s implementation of the new policy.

“Overall, I would say that the administrators present were pretty receptive to student concerns, but I think really the true measure of that is whether or not they follow up on these concerns,” Cai said. “It is only one step towards concrete change.”

Reed-Twiss believes that the session is a sign that the University is open and willing to collaborate with students, a shift she has witnessed over the development of the Title Mine movement.

“I think [the session] showed the collaborative relationship that is starting to develop with administration,” she said. “With the Title Mine rally at the end of last year, we were kind of starting from an adversarial standpoint, but over the summer, the organizers working with Lori White and then meeting with her and Kim Webb this year…I think it’s really starting to change into working with them instead of against them.”