How WU responded to DeVos Title IX regulations amid the pandemic

| Staff Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of sexual assault and interpersonal violence. If you or someone you know is struggling, resources are listed at the bottom of this page.

Following US Department of Education regulations that limited Title IX’s scope in May 2020, Washington University’s Title IX and Gender Equity Office, the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center and student groups such as Title Mine have worked to implement a variety of new initiatives addressing the DeVos regulations.

The initiatives include instituting a gender equity grievance process, creating trauma-informed trainings for mandatory reporters, publishing a list of mandatory reporters, adding an R.S.V.P Center counselor for LGBTQIA* students and devising sexual violence prevention training modules for freshmen and sophomores.

One new initiative, the gender equity grievance process, was implemented in fall 2020 to investigate incidents of sexual misconduct that fall outside the scope of Title IX’s policy, which defines misconduct as “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” Although no investigations have been conducted using the gender equity process so far, director of the Title IX office Jessica Kennedy emphasized the necessity of the process.

“There is certainly a lot of behavior that happens at Wash. U. that does not fall within the strict confines of the new definition of Title IX,” Kennedy said. “Much may happen near campus but not on campus property.”

The Title IX and Gender Equity Office, the R.S.V.P Center and Title Mine also addressed the training and transparency of mandatory reporters. Hannah Jayne, relationship and sexual violence prevention specialist at the R.S.V.P Center, said that she has been working with Title Mine to improve mandatory reporter training procedures.

“[Title Mine has] been oriented towards working really closely with Provost Wendland to bolster mandatory reporter training to be trauma informed and required for all faculty and staff who are identified as mandatory reporters,” Jayne said. “It’s one thing for faculty and staff to go through a training about how to respond when a disclosure happens, it’s another thing to do that when a student is face to face with you.”

Title Mine President senior Maia Bender-Long said that, over the summer, Title IX and administrators also made it a priority to provide the campus community with information regarding which staff members are mandatory reporters.

“We have added a more specific list of individuals at the University who are mandatory reporters and it now is on our website,” Kennedy said. “It’s also part of the materials that we give out to students when they come into the Title IX office to talk about making a report.”

Another concern the organizations addressed was how the University should center LGBTQIA* survivors given the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey’s results, which indicated that sexual violence was severly unrrreported by trans and gender-nonconforming students.

“When I see that data, it means that there is a specific intersection of experience survivors from the LGBTQIA* community are having related to their sexual violence trauma and are not feeling safe or comfortable utilizing Wash. U. resources,” Jayne said. “We need to learn and really work to remove barriers for LGBTQ+ students to seek resources.”

In response to the survey results, Kayne said the RSVP center hired Matt Fanning, a therapist who focuses on marginalized, vulnerable and emerging adult populations, to provide a resource that LGBTQ+ students could better identify with.

The pandemic has presented difficulties in access to resources for survivors, particularly since remote, out-of-state students cannot receive therapy through the R.S.V.P Center. However, it has simultaneously created the opportunity to implement beneficial new practices such as conducting Title IX hearings on Zoom, a more trauma-informed practice.

“If a student is a survivor and in a situation where they need emergency services, like a domestic violence shelter, many of those shelters have either been closed during the pandemic, or they have limited bed space,” Jayne said.

Access to University resources are also limited to students that are not currently on campus.

“If a Wash. U. student is not in the state of Missouri and they’re a survivor of sexual violence, and their therapist is an R.S.V.P center counselor, that therapy cannot happen because of interstate reciprocity licensing regulations,” Jayne said. “There is some active legislation happening in DC, both statewide and nationally to talk about how to address that concern, because students should be able to see their therapists, regardless of where they’re living in the midst of a pandemic.”

Kennedy explained how Title IX hearings are now held over Zoom, a practice she said is more trauma-informed.

“As we move forward with investigations via the new Title IX process or the new gender equity process, those hearings are all being done remotely,” Kennedy said. “They’re going to continue to be done remotely, even after the pandemic is over, so [the pandemic] gave us an opportunity to to try out that remote process without anyone being surprised by it.”

“[A Zoom hearing] is the most trauma-informed practice, designed to eliminate the need for a survivor to have to be in the same room with someone that has assaulted or harassed them,” Kennedy said.

Zoom hearings also shorten the length of investigations, a concern voiced by students after the DeVos regulations eliminated the 60-day guideline for investigations.

“One of the pieces that has oftentimes made our process a lengthy one is scheduling and trying to get everyone available in the same room at the same time, so by doing it remotely, we eliminate some of those concerns,” Kennedy said.

According to Kennedy, communication about new Title IX regulations and Washington University Title IX programs was provided through a story in The Record, several informational town halls, the Title IX and Gender Equity Office website, and materials distributed to student groups and athletics.

In light of these changes, Bender-Long emphasized the importance of communication between students and administration.

“It’s more important than ever that Wash. U. accounts for the student body and to hear students’ voices on what they would like to see from the University,” Bender-Long said. “That can be open forums or having a scalable and quantifiable way of understanding students and moreover, the Wash. U. community.”

Kennedy said that the Title IX and Gender Equity Office welcomes student feedback.

“Dialogue can always be improved,” Kennedy said. “We are always eager to hear responses, particularly from people who have been through the process, either as a party or as someone who has supported a party during the process.”

Kennedy added that, when looking forward to potential new Biden Title IX regulations, the Title IX and Gender Equity Office hopes to include more student feedback in implementing policies.

“Depending on the timeline that they give us, our hope is to come up with our ideas and proposals and then engage with stakeholders to receive their feedback,” Kennedy said. “It was such a limited amount of time last year when we went through this that it really tied our hands in terms of our ability to to get much feedback from stakeholders that were not involved actually in drafting the new policies and procedures.”

Jayne emphasized that student groups like Title Mine should have a place in the process of implementing Biden Title IX policies.

“[Title Mine] reads all sorts of resources: they’re in the weeds of the work, they’re able to ask big big questions that make us better at our jobs,” Jayne said. “I think that they need to be a huge part of the rewrite as well.”

Although the Title IX and Gender Equity Office has had to adhere to stricter national guidelines, Jayne said that the Title IX and Gender Equity Office has still been working diligently to support survivors.

“That entire staff at the Title IX office cares so much about not wanting to re-traumatize students, not wanting to create an environment that is triggering,” Jayne said. “I think students can often assume, because the regulations are more complicated and messy and oftentimes not survivor centered, that the staff members are also that way, and that could not be further from the truth.”

Editor’s Note: The Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H) provides confidential and anonymous support and can be reached at 314-935-8080 during the fall and spring academic semesters.

There are counselors at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center, located in Seigle Hall, Suite 435, available confidentially to any University student. The office can be reached at tel:314-935-3445 or by email at:[email protected]

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at tel:1-800-656-4673 or via online chat at 24/7.

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