Students move to demand WU Title IX changes

| Senior Editor

Washington University students will host a rally to express discontent with current Title IX reporting processes and University responses to sexual assault and harassment on campus. The rally will take place April 26 at 4 p.m.

An op-ed published in Student Life April 16 detailing a student’s experience reporting an instance of interpersonal physical violence to various campus offices generated the most recent efforts to organize around the Title IX process, in addition to previous op-eds and articles published in 2017.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 4.48.31 AMGraphic by Josh Zucker and Brandon Wilburn

Why are students organizing?

Students are organizing due to dissatisfaction with Washington University’s response to sexual assault and harassment—specifically with Title IX processes—and plan to articulate specific requests from the University, according to those working to organize the rally.

“So the problem is this is supposed to be a resource you can go to if you don’t want to press charges, because pressing charges legally can be a really invasive process for survivors. A lot of people don’t want to do that, but they still want to see some sort of change. Title IX should be that place, but it hasn’t been,” freshman Anna Wilson said.

Other aspects of the rally will place an emphasis on continuing efforts to improve survivor support.

“I would just like to say that I’m really excited to see people gathering to support survivors and fix the systems that are allowing violence on this campus to continue,” junior and Women’s Panhellenic Association president Genevieve Leach said. “I’m hoping to see some concrete changes that will help survivors feel supported, and also see systems—formal and informal, social and administrative—held more accountable.”

For some students, this represents a continuation of months of personal dedication to reforming Title IX on this campus.

“This is important, this has needed to happen for a long time. I’ve heard criticism of people saying that ‘it’s not going to make real change, policy is not going to happen.’ Yeah, it will. This is a singular event of a long movement,” sophomore Bex Smith said.

How is the University responding to this demonstration?

According to Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy, the basis for the current Title IX process was initially formed in 2012 through a University-led task force, which decided to place an emphasis on maintaining thoroughness in investigations.

“I think in a lot of ways our process is ideal, except for the length of time that it takes,” Kennedy said. “And allowing for a robust review process, I think that is a great process. But what we know is that it takes entirely too long, and we’re working to address that.”

Recognizing the complexity of the process, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori White wants more transparency of the reporting process.

“We need to do a better job of explaining to our community what this process entails,” White said. “The challenge is of course most of us wouldn’t pay attention to any of this until we actually had to be involved in the process in some way. And then it becomes overwhelming, intimidating and scary.”

Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center Director Kim Webb described an additional focus on evaluating and expanding programming surrounding sexual violence and harassment prevention for all students. Additionally, she hopes to educate students on the scope of assault and harassment on campus.

“I want to be there to support students as they think about what this means to them and how they want to participate and how they want to show up—or if they don’t want to participate and they don’t want to show up—and how can I be that support system, and how can I be behind the scenes,” Webb said.

The University has previously published its current efforts and future plans to address sexual violence on campus on its Title IX website. Some of the areas they identify for improvement include to “better clarify the Title IX process so it is more easily understood, enhance support for complainants and respondents in Title IX cases, expand training for upperclass students, faculty and staff,” and to “ensure all students are provided with appropriate, supportive and timely accomodations when requested.”

Webb emphasizes that the University will be receptive to students’ suggestions from the rally.

“So next week, when the rally happens and students, I’m sure, will have a list of suggestions, we certainly are open to hearing them,” Webb said. “This has to be a process that works well for students. It’s not about us, it has to work for students.”

White also hopes to work with students to address their concerns.

“If students have ideas we would love to be able to partner with them, hear them and figure out ways in which we can develop programs and support networks that really work for students,” White said.

Additional reporting by Aidan Strassmann.

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