WU announces changes to Title IX system in response to student demands

and | Senior News Editors

Washington University announced a variety of recommended changes to the University’s Title IX system, all of which have been approved by Chancellor Mark Wrighton, in a report released Sept. 4.

Among the recommendations are the creation of six new full-time positions spread across the Title IX Office, the Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Center (RSVP) and the Habif Health and Wellness Center, as well as making one part-time administrative assistant position in the RSVP Center full-time. The report also notes that the University’s current Title IX system, “while comprehensive and thorough, takes too long,” and outlines proposed interventions to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process.

The report, issued partially in response to a series of op-eds published in Student Life last spring, was the product of a group headed by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White over the summer. This group included students, faculty and staff from multiple organizations across campus, and directly addressed demands made by organizers at the Title Mine rally last April.

“A group of us on the campus who have some responsibility in some way, shape or form for the Title IX process or supporting survivors and responding in some way, gathered during the summer and went through each of the recommendations and evaluated the extent to which we felt we might be able to meet the recommendations,” White said in an interview with Student Life.

Through these meetings, the group ultimately came up with a list of recommendations for the University, which Wrighton subsequently approved.

“He accepted the report and all of our recommendations, including the recommendations for increased funding, primarily in the form of new staff members in Title IX, in the Title IX Office, the RSVP Center and in the Habif Health and Wellness Center,” White said.

How will these changes affect the Title IX process?

The updated Title IX process will include an Advisory Committee, somewhat modeled after the “oversight committee” that was suggested in the demands made by Title Mine. The Advisory Committee will be made up of both students and staff and will serve as a permanent advising board for the Title IX process.

According to White, the creation of this committee will provide a structural way for the Title IX Office to receive feedback.

“I think we tried to encourage students to give us feedback, but there’s no formal forum for that to happen,” White said. “This way I think we will be able to improve the mechanism by which we ask students for feedback about all aspects of the Title IX process.”

Additionally, the report outlines a peer consulting program in which students going through the Title IX process will have the opportunity to meet with a peer consultant on a regular basis. These student consultants will be trained and will be able to help their fellow students further understand the process.

Other peer resources such as the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H.) and Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE) have existed on Washington University’s campus for years. The new program differs in that these peer consultants will be working directly with the Title IX Office rather than the RSVP Center.

Furthermore, the creation of a new student support position in the RSVP Center will specifically support marginalized students, who often have different experiences and obstacles in regards to sexual violence and assault.

“We know that there are a lot of barriers for marginalized students on campus and also for some marginalized populations, there is a higher prevalence of violence,” Kim Webb, director of the RSVP Center, said. “We want to address that, we’ve heard that repeatedly. Now this [position] is really going to address other marginalized identities and the gaps and barriers there.”

Another concern addressed in the report was the length of the Title IX investigation process, which many students believe is too long. Title Mine recommended that the process be shortened to a 60 to 90-day interval. While the report states that the University is committed to resolving Title IX cases in a timely manner, it also maintains that a 60-day time frame is not feasible.

“It is important to note that the 60-day length for Title IX investigations recommended in the 2011 Dear Colleague letter is not a mandated time frame and, given the structure and organization of our current process, we do not believe a 60-day time frame is feasible,” the report reads. “However, we do believe that with additional resources, we can shorten the length of our current process, and we are committed to resolving Title IX cases as soon as practicable.”

According to White, the additional full-time investigator in the Title IX Office will be a factor in shortening the process indirectly.

“When we have the contract employees, while they’re very responsive, they don’t work for us full-time,” White said. “We believe that having a full-time investigator will enable us to conduct those interviews in a much more timely fashion.”

What resources are being added?

As outlined in the report, six new full-time positions will be added and a part-time position will be made full-time. These positions include a trainer and a full-time investigator in the Title IX Office, a trainer, a counselor and a student support position in the RSVP Center, and an additional counselor in the Habif Health and Wellness Center. An administrative assistant position for the RSVP Center will be upgraded from a part-time position to a full-time position.

Webb believes that with the addition of these new positions to the staff the University will be able to better support students throughout the process.

“We feel really honored to have more support staff and really meet demands of the students. It’s going to enable us to support students in a different way,” Webb said.

Previously, the Title IX Office had no full-time investigator. Instead, four contracted investigators were hired from outside of the University and assigned to cases within Washington University.

“This will be the first dedicated full-time [investigator,]” Webb said. “I think [it] will help expedite and streamline the process.”

Timeline for implementation

With the release of the report, the RSVP Center, Habif Health and Wellness Center and the Title IX Office will begin their search to fill these new positions immediately.

By Sept. 15, the University hopes to collaborate with students to create both the peer consultant program and the Advisory Committee on Title IX and to have received feedback for a committee member selection process. It also aims to have determined the focus of the Advisory Committee.

By Oct. 1, the University will have determined the responsibilities and training requirements of Title IX peer consultants and the Advisory Committee.

By Oct. 31, the University hopes to have members of the Advisory Committee appointed, with their meeting schedule established for the year. Additionally, the University will begin their recruitment process for peer consultants.

By March 1, the University will launch enhanced web resources on sexual assault and other Title IX issues. It will also complete peer consultant training during this time frame.

“We plan to talk with students about making sure that we effectively represent what students want and think should be represented on the website related,” White said.

Throughout the fall semester and upcoming semesters, the University will hold regular meetings to ensure the execution of the approved recommendations. It will also hold regular meetings for a Concern for Students team, an administrative team organized to ensure coordination between offices and programs involved in the Title IX process.

How does this match up to Title Mine’s demands?

According to White, the group began discussions using the Title Mine demands as a guideline, examining each recommendation and determining whether or not it could be implemented.

“The students provided a wonderful framework for thinking about how to continue to improve our Title IX processes and policies and practices going forward and so we looked at each of the areas to try to identify if we were to implement the recommendations as we’d outlined them in the report, what additional resources in terms of staffing and other resources would we need to be able to do that,” White said.

One demand set forth by Title Mine was that the school provide an attorney for both parties going through the Title IX process. The group argued that delays in cases can occur when either party is searching for a lawyer; if the school were to provide them, the process would be expedited.

“In our analysis of the process…students perceive that there is an advantage to a student who has an attorney, [but] that doesn’t play out in practice,” White said. “So, the folks that hear the cases aren’t predisposed to act more positively to a student who has an attorney, so in the end it doesn’t have any effect on the actual case or the outcome of the case.”

According to White, if the University were to provide attorneys for Title IX cases, it would have to provide them for any student conduct process. Provost Holden Thorp also believes there is not an advantage to having a lawyer.

“We like the authentic voices of the students involved, and the kind of participation that we’re seeking from students is a trade-off in terms of whether you want to have attorneys doing the whole thing,” Thorp said. “We would like to be able to have students be able to participate in these things themselves and not have it become a highly legalistic matter.”

The University did not comment on the calls to replace Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy, another demand of the Title Mine movement.

“With the additional staffing that we are providing to the Title IX Office, we imagine that [Assistant Director and Associate Title IX Coordinator] Cynthia Copeland will become the primary person interacting with students from here on, and so I think for those students who feel that they don’t want to talk to Jessica Kennedy, that’s an option that we certainly have,” Thorp said.

While the University has made improvements regarding staffing, training and peer consulting, the actual process of Title IX investigations shows little change.

According to Thorp, who has met with several students throughout the year to talk about the Title IX process, the University does not feel a need to change the process itself.

“Every time we’ve talked with students about the structure of the process itself, there’s always been a pretty strong sentiment that having students on the [University Sexual Assault Investigative Board] panel is important [and] having the panel is important. So as long as we’re going to have those two things, there are not a lot of things that you could do to the process itself to change it,” Thorp said. “We want to improve the training; we want to improve the rate at which we can get through the process that we have. But we have not felt that we’ve had support from the advocates for making a radical change to the process.”

Meeting with students

On Aug. 31, White and Webb met with student leaders to present the document and any questions they had about the content or implementation of the plan.

“My sense was that [the students] believed that the University took seriously the recommendations that they made and took the time to evaluate them,” White said. “We then spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to move from the actual report to implementation.”

Title Mine will be releasing a statement in response to the administration’s report later this week.

National changes

The release of the document coincides with a recent report about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to policies for campus sexual misconduct. According to the New York Times, these rules would protect the rights of the accused and reduce the liability of universities, making them responsible only for incidents that occur on-campus and for formal complaints filed through the proper authorities.

White said that the University plans to continue with its proposed changes until the White House gives further instruction about possible changes to Title IX.

“We’re just absorbing it just as you all did, just got it earlier this week,” White said. “Our approach at this point is to stay the course that we’re on until we receive requirements that we have to do something different. We’re not planning to pull back.”

According to Thorp, the University does not stand by DeVos’ proposed new rules.

“We don’t agree with any of the changes that she’s proposing, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the Department of Education knows that,” Thorp said. “We’re hopeful that the changes that she’s proposing are not things that will impact us, but we’ll have to continue to work through that as these things evolve.”

Title Mine, now an officially recognized student group, has already planned its first info session of the school year. White noted that while the movement is relatively new to Washington University’s campus, the fight against sexual assault and the University’s policies is not.

“[It is important to acknowledge] the students who have been in this fight for a long time and have been pushing the University forward in some really important ways, so kudos to the Title Mine students. But also, we have to acknowledge the students who came before them,” White said.

The full report is available here.

Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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