Associate VP for Equity and Title IX answers common questions

Dr. Laura Johnson, associate vice president for Equity and Title IX, answers some common questions about the Title IX office. Grace Fortier | Photographer

By Rachel Royster | News Editor

As April and Sexual Assualt Awareness Month begin, Dr. Laura Johnson, associate vice president for Equity and Title IX, shared her insight on what students may not know about the Title IX office.

Johnson has worked in the Title IX office since June of 2018 after serving in various roles relating to Title IX and student life at other institutions. She has also attended a multitude of Title IX trainings while at Baylor to further her expertise.

How does a student know whether or not to file a Title IX complaint? What is your advice to those students?

“I would err on the side of caution and report. Our office will vet whether or not something states a policy violation or warrants additional follow-up. If it is something that can be addressed by our policy, we will reach out and connect with them to see how the complainant wants to move forward. If it’s not something that’s addressed by our policy, we’ll just refer it to the appropriate campus partner. We get all sorts of reports — things that very clearly fall underneath our policy and things that are nowhere related to conduct prohibited by our policy. In that case, we just forwarded on to the right person. And that’s all absolutely fine. As long as we can get people in the right hands, that’s typically helpful.”

Is there a stigma based around filing a complaint? What is your advice to students worried about that?

“Our interactions are all private. We don’t share information with people who don’t need to know. So if they’re worried that reporting to our office is going to brand them in some way, they can rest assured that our interactions are private, and we’re not going to share them with others. I think the stigmas around reporting issues of sexual misconduct have diminished a lot over the last few years thanks to a lot of activism and kind of public speaking out on the issues and that type of thing.

Another thing is the Baylor policy says Baylor students are not to be under the influence of substances or engage in sex outside the confines of marriage. However, if somebody reports to our office, we’re not going to refer them over to Student Conduct to have that conduct adjudicated by their policy. I think that’s probably another good piece of information that helps kind of break down barriers to report.”

Have there been any changes in policy recently?

“The biggest recent change is that we’ve moved to live hearings as required by Title IX. That means that the complainant and respondent have the opportunity to participate in a live hearing where a hearing officer will ask them questions. They can ask questions of each other through an adviser and, of course, ask questions of witnesses who would like to participate as well. We can’t force anybody to participate in that hearing. But if they do, that’s part of our disciplinary process now. Usually whenever we do a policy update, we do a little cover sheet that highlights the biggest changes.”

What has not changed?

“The thing that hasn’t changed that hopefully can make it less daunting for people to report is we still make every effort to let the reporter determine what the next steps are. So they can report and share no details, share limited details or even share full details and say, ‘I don’t want to do anything right now. I just want this on file.’ And we will make every effort to abide by that and let them determine the next step. Then, like I said, that, in combination with the fact that we keep the information private, so even a student’s parents could call and say, ‘Hey, tell me what happened when my student came to your office.’ That student could be standing right in front of me, and I would say, ‘Without the student releasing me to share the information, I can’t confirm for you whether or not they’ve even stepped foot in here.’ So I think those two things should help make it less daunting. We make every effort to let them determine the next step and that we keep the information as private as we can.”

Researchers have found that a majority of cases go unreported. How do you try to balance out this ratio? What do you think the ratio is now?

“I will say the national research on the issue does support that an overwhelming majority of people who’ve experienced some form of sexual misconduct do not come forward to report. That’s at Baylor or any other institution. And that’s true of high school students, college students and people beyond. Overwhelmingly, this is a type of crime and/or interaction that people don’t come forward to report. A lot of the empirical studies will cite something more along the lines of over 70%. Things we try to do to combat that, like I said, all the protections we have in place around privacy and letting people stay in the driver’s seat about what happens with their information and efforts to destigmatize reporting. We’ve seen a lot of activist movements in the past few years. We also have opportunities for anonymous reporting. In fact, we can even communicate back and forth anonymously without that person having to share their identity, so they can still have a conversation with us. And then lots of publications like the bathroom posters and educational opportunities and things like that to help people identify what conduct is prohibited by our policy and how to report and what happens when you report.”

Are you seeing a spike in any particular type of case?

“As far as some things that have been of concern lately, we’ve gotten several reports about the use of AirTags to follow or surveil people’s location. We’ve had concerns about people sharing intimate images of themselves and then having somebody threaten to use that image in an inappropriate way without their consent. With things to do to protect themselves, obviously, be intentional with what information you share with people and understand that once that leaves your hands, we can’t always control exactly what’s going to happen with it next.”

What steps of action can the school take once a complaint has been filed?

“We have a lot of support measures in place, but they’re going to be customized to the student that’s requesting them. By that I mean, a student could come in and say, ‘Here’s what happened. I don’t want the respondent to know that I’ve reported. But can you help ensure that we don’t cross paths?’ And we can help that student maybe switch class sections if that’s what they wanted, if that’s available, so that the respondent doesn’t know. Or they might say, ‘I don’t care if the respondent knows. Can you issue a no-contact directive so that we can’t communicate, or he or she is not allowed to communicate with me directly or indirectly or via a third party?’ We could do something like that. We could offer to do safety planning with them with the Baylor PD or Waco PD or anything like that. So our support measures and kind of protections are going to be catered to what information that student is willing to share and how they want us to move forward.”

If you or someone you know needs to contact the Title IX office for any reason, they are available during business hours via phone at 254-710-8454 or at any time by emailing or