Title IX needs more student involvement

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Just as it reassured the public it would, the Title IX office at Baylor has undergone numerous changes in the name of improvement. Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations have been implemented, the Title IX section on Baylor’s website is now layered with information and resources, and pools of money have been spent settling lawsuits and cleaning up the mess of recent years’ scandals. However, despite continued efforts, something seems to be largely unrepresented — opportunities for student involvement, not as individuals in need of assistance, but as the assistants themselves.

The sexual assault climate survey, which was administered last year, revealed that 75 percent of those surveyed believe that Baylor did/would “actively support them with either formal or informal resources,” when approaching title IX issues. However, despite this belief, only 53 percent of survey-takers believed Baylor would support the individual making the report. These are somewhat contradictory findings —findings that can be remedied by creating opportunities for students to be involved in the process.

While a lack of student involvement in handling serious situations may be for good reason, students willing to undergo proper training could serve as a valuable resource to a survivor uncomfortable talking to an adult they have never previously met.

Advocate positions or internships are just the starting point of many possibilities. Training for handling sensitive matters of the like is often extensive and time-consuming; therefore, students who intend on working in related fields such as social work or family and gender studies should be able to earn class credit and simultaneously gain experience working with victims of assault and trauma. This would ensure the students serving as a source of support would be educated on the matter and held responsible for protecting the confidentiality of that student. This and any other services involving peers would be completely optional for students, as some may not feel comfortable with student Title IX ambassadors or representatives.

A Baylor student who preferred to remain anonymous told the Lariat, “The most beneficial thing to me in my journey was having a friend to confide in,” adding that she felt most comfortable talking about her assault with someone her own age. As a survivor of assault and a current student at Baylor, she suggested a student-run hotline. Student volunteers would rotate shifts, being on-call for two to three hours at a time, and survivors of assault would be invited to reach out anytime. This would allow students to speak to their peers — to someone passionate enough about the issue to spend their time listening to others — without having to reveal their identity.

Tulane University in New Orleans has already implemented something similar, a program called SAPHE, or Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education. The student-run, 24/7 hotline is available for students to make a confidential call and express their feelings about experiences with sexual harassment or assault.

Students elsewhere have taken it upon themselves to advocate for proper Title IX handling. Know your IX, a survivor- and youth-led project that aims to empower students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools, largely focuses on keeping the educational system in check. Featuring advice on how to rally, plan campaign strategies and fight for improvement, groups such as these are based on the idea that much power and assertion on the part of the student body is necessary to inspire systematic change. However, with paid student advocacy programs, student-run hotlines or student support groups organized by the Title IX office, students would not feel as compelled to stand up against the university as a whole, as they would to participate and work in unison with the school.

At the very least, students’ voices need to be accounted for as administrative decisions are made and leadership positions are filled. If the office exists for the people, then the people’s needs should be effectively sought after and prioritized.

It’s On Us, a campaign Baylor students have likely encountered on more than one occasion, is undergoing a process of transition that temporarily limits its marketing capabilities. According to Fort Worth senior Caroline Grace, the former social chair and current president of It’s On Us, the program is transitioning away from “being an arm under the Title IX department to being an official Student Activities organization.” This is largely due to administrative changes, sparked by a discussion that questioned whether prevention training should be under the office of compliance, Title IX or another office, Grace said.

Even though Grace said the program “has no intention of cutting ties with our friends and advocates in the Title IX office,” she said fluctuations within the department have reinforced the program’s decision to become an independent group. Despite a close connection, a gap is still left in the Title IX office where students should stand.

A guide for Title IX advocates and attorneys by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center best captures the essence of the issue: “Title IX provides a floor, not a ceiling … Survivors are in the best position to tell the school what will make them feel safe.”

Many have lost trust in those working in higher-up positions, and many others feel uncomfortable speaking to unfamiliar adults about private matters. Survivors of sexual assault should be able to confide in their peers and to grow stronger together.