Title Mine responds to Washington University’s report on Title IX updates

and | Senior News Editors

Student group Title Mine addressed changes to Washington University’s Title IX system with a statement posted to Facebook Sept. 4.

The statement details the demands that have been met, demands that are in progress and those that have not been met. It also explains what Title Mine organizers are currently doing in response to the changes.

The University’s Title IX report was issued partially in response to a series of op-eds published in Student Life last spring, and 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.

Screen-Shot-2018-09-06-at-2.34.48-AMGraphic by Brandon Wilburn

“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 Chancellor Mark 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 [Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP)] Center and in the Habif Health and Wellness Center,” White said.

Title Mine statement

In their statement, Title Mine recognizes the University’s effort in making the Title IX process more transparent, while also explaining that there is still more work to be done.

“We commend Wash. U. for this progress, and remain committed to working with the administration to implement their proposed measures in ways that are student-centric, accountable, and transparent,” the Title Mine report reads.

The University will be holding a town hall-style feedback session in Umrath Lounge Wednesday, Sept. 12, which will give students a chance to address any questions or concerns that they may have with the report.

“During these meetings, we will continue to surface student concerns and critically evaluate each step that the administration implements to improve the Title IX process,” Title Mine organizers wrote.

Title Mine organizer and junior Luka Cai is pleased with the administration’s effort to gather student feedback and believes that it sets a precedent for the way the University will include students in the changes to Title IX.

“I like that student input will be collected at every step of the process,” Cai said. “So, even when the administration is committing to, say, implicit bias training, it seems like they want input from us about what we want that training to look like.”

Meeting with administration

On Aug. 31, Title Mine met with White and RSVP Center Director Kim Webb to review the document and ask 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.”

Though the group previously criticized the administration’s response to sexual assault last spring, their work with White to create the changes has been a positive experience.

“[Lori White] has been so amenable to all of our demands thus far,” Title Mine organizer and sophomore Candace Hayes said. “We have such a great working relationship with the administration because of how amenable she’s been.”

Going forward, Title Mine will continue to work with the University as well as other students who are not involved in the group, beginning with the town hall in Umrath next Wednesday.

“Title Mine organizers will be present at these feedback sessions, and we encourage you to contribute your thoughts on the administration’s suggestions thus far,” the Title Mine report reads. “We will also be available for one-on-one or small-group conversations where you can bounce off ideas and share your thoughts in a more private, comfortable setting afterwards.”

Cai believes that having a feedback session that is open to the general student population, rather than just the organizers of Title Mine, is both important and helpful to the University.

“I like that student involvement is prioritized at every step of the way…[and] seeing that the administration is actively gathering outside student input on the report, not just Title Mine student organizers’ input,” Cai said. “So I think that means making next week’s listening session as accessible and widely publicized as possible.”

What resources are being added and how will these changes affect the Title IX process?

The report outlines six new full-time positions spread across the Title IX Office, the RSVP Center 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.

Cai believes that the additional staffing shows how seriously the University is taking the Title Mine.

“I think that it commits to concrete resources being invested to improve the Title IX process,” Cai said.

The University has also made changes—including upgrading the resources available on their website—to the transparency with which information about the Title IX process is available.

Jodie Goodman, a second-year graduate student in the Brown School of Social Work, has been working with Title Mine and believes that the commitment to transparency is one of the most important updates to the process.

“What stands out is obviously the staffing investment, but there are lot of details that I think will also really improve the experience of survivors of violence on campus,” Goodman said. “For example, things like clarifying what it means to be a responsible employee, that’s a real student concern…it’s unclear on our campus, and it’s a detail they’re committed to being concerned about because students are.”

Updates to counseling resources for student support were emphasized in Title Mine’s original demands. The University has added 24-hour counseling services for students, which will be made possible through the newly-added counseling staff.

“I would say [one of] the resources I’m most happy with [is]…having on call 24/7 counseling service to survivors,” Cai said.

The University’s report also details changes to the training that those involved with the Title IX process will receive. This includes the University Sexual Assault Investigative Board (USAIB), Title IX staff, Habif Center staff, Student Affairs staff, Greek life and student organizations.

“The second thing I’m most happy about is the fact that training and education will be required for every person involved in the Title IX process,” Cai said. “Especially that the training has to be trauma-informed, culturally-informed and focused on implicit bias and intersectionality.”

Title Mine has previously highlighted the importance of implicit bias and intersectionality, as well as acknowledging the different experiences and obstacles that marginalized students face in regards to sexual violence and assault. The creation of the new student support position in the RSVP Center will specifically support marginalized students.

“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,” Webb 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.”

The Title IX updates will also 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 and Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education have existed on Washington University’s campus for years through the RSVP Center. Through the new changes, these peer consultants will be working directly with the Title IX Office.

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. Previously, there was no full-time investigator; rather, four contracted investigators were hired from outside of the University and assigned to cases within Washington University.

“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.”

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.

Hayes was pleased with the amount of change that the administration was able to include in the report.

“I was very pleasantly surprised, I would say just because a good majority of our demands have been met,” Hayes said.

However, there were several demands that went unmet by the report, including long-term on-campus care, free additional therapy for survivors and on-campus medical care such as rape kits and free emergency contraceptives, all of which were outlined in Title Mine’s response.

According to Title Mine organizer and junior Allie Lindstrom, the organization has not determined which of their recommendations they will pursue first, but they plan to continue dialogue with the administration about changes they feel are necessary.

“We haven’t decided which things we will pursue as a campaign, but we will continue to make sure that the things that haven’t been addressed whether or not we have made that demand before will continue to be brought to the administration,” Lindstrom said.

In addition, the University did not comment on the calls to replace Title IX Director Jessica Kennedy.

“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,” Provost Holden Thorp said.

Another demand that was originally 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, they would have to provide them for any student conduct process. Thorp also believes that 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.”

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 USAIB 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.”

What happens next?

Looking ahead, Title Mine will continue to work with students and administration to raise awareness and enact further change to the Title IX process.

Specifically, they will be adding a sixth subcommittee to address demands that were not resolved in the report. Title Mine currently has five subcommittees that have been working on changes, but this one will be focused on identifying changes that can still be made.

“Because there are things that we haven’t fully decided if they’ve been implemented yet, we will be having a sixth subcommittee dedicated to addressing things that have not been addressed yet,” Cai said. “[This subcommittee] will think about what hasn’t been met and brings that to the attention of the administration.”

The student group is also focused on recruiting more members to get involved with working on policy change and organization.

“I think one of the main concerns of this movement is that everyone wants to show up at the rally and be at the public-facing events and joining community, which is really important, but also we need people to do the work afterwards to make policy changes,” Cai said. “I really want people to get involved and contribute their voice, because the Title IX student organizers are not perfect right now, and we have so many blind spots if it’s just us.”

Title Mine is also trying to extend their efforts beyond the Washington University campus. This summer, the group reached out to sexual assault prevention programs and activist groups at a number of different universities to inform them of their organization. They asked for their input and offered to assist with their reform efforts as well. Title Mine hopes that with the progress they’ve made on the Washington University campus, it will encourage other students to push for change at their own schools.

“Looking at the report just gave me so much hope for the reform of the Title Mine process on our campus,” Hayes said. “Hopefully we can inspire other campuses as well.”

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 their 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. “So 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.”

Lindstrom and Goodman were reassured by the administration’s stance on the issue, which mirrors that of Title Mine.

“I am heartened to know that Wash. U. is not going to change things unless they are absolutely required to by law,” Lindstrom said. “We’re going to make sure that we keep tabs on what Wash. U. submits as its public comment, which we look forward to seeing and potentially submitting our own.”

“They commit in the report to continuing to investigate claims of misconduct not just on campus but—as the 2011 Dear Colleagues letter suggests—in all Wash. U. affiliated activities and student groups, which coming right after the potential new guidelines were leaked was especially heartening, [and] very much the opposite of where policy’s going nationally,” Goodman said.

Cai emphasized the importance of getting involved, especially considering the state of Title IX reform nationally.

“I think we’re at a historic moment, because there’s an opening for students to shape the policies they want to be in place at this University,” Cai said. “So I really encourage people to get involved.”

Despite the recency of the Title Mine movement on Washington University’s campus, White noted that efforts to address problems with the system have been ongoing.

“[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.

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