Title IX and #MeToo: Next Steps for Title IX Coordinators

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What opportunities does the #MeToo movement open up for Title IX coordinators, and how can we seize the moment?

An interview with Rabia Khan Harvey, Academic Impressions, recently Title IX coordinator at Columbia College Chicago

Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions. Rabia, thanks for joining me today. I wanted to ask: What does the #MeToo movement mean for college campuses?

Rabia Khan Harvey. The first word that comes to mind is outlet. The #MeToo movement was founded in 2006 but didn’t go viral until the Harvey Weinstein allegation. Now it provides an outlet for survivors who have felt silenced for so long, who feared they wouldn’t be believed. It has lifted multiple barriers, from self-blame to not wanting to get the person who was accused in trouble—that was a very real barrier.

Secondly, solidarity. It used to be that survivors were left feeling very alone. Now there is the feeling that others have experienced this, and survivors don’t need to be silent anymore.

Third, awareness. This movement illustrates for people how much our society has ignored rape culture, how much we have normalized and explained away rape culture.

Daniel Fusch. What does it mean for Title IX coordinators and staff, specifically?

Rabia Khan Harvey. I think we have to seize the opportunity to talk with students. This is an opportune time to do education about the prominence of victim blaming. Create dialogue around what this means. And engage men in the conversation about bystander intervention, which is a proven method for preventing rape from happening. There is more awareness and openness among students and willingness now to have this dialogue.

Our top two priorities right now should be: engage students in conversation about bystander intervention and change the culture of victim blaming.

Daniel Fusch. Rabia, on a related topic, what are the implications of recent updates from the Office for Civil Rights?

Rabia Khan Harvey. There aren’t many implications. If you have established a solid policy that is fair and balanced to both parties, you don’t have to overhaul that policy. The initial reaction by many was that the Trump administration might undo everything the previous administration did, but they actually didn’t. They took the 60-day timeline away, and that gives a little more flexibility to Title IX coordinators.

Even without changes from the OCR, we need to annually review our Title IX policy. This is a best practice that every campus should be pursuing. Crafting your Title IX policy is not a “one and done” activity.

Daniel Fusch. Rabia, related to Title IX compliance and procedures, what should we be paying more attention to now, that might receive greater attention in the future?

Rabia Khan Harvey. We need to develop clear processes for how faculty and staff might be disciplined if a Title IX issue involves them. Right now, campuses hold students far more accountable than faculty, and faculty/staff matters are left to HR, but in the future, Title IX coordinators could well be held accountable.

My colleague Bev Baligad at the University of Hawai’i-West O’ahu is very passionate about the intersection of Title IX with faculty civility, and about faculty buy-in. Many Title IX coordinators struggle to getting faculty on board and clear about their duty to report incidents. Many faculty have pushed back against investigation and the duty to report.

Second, we have to discuss the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ students. Quite frankly, this is where we often see a lack of buy-in from administrators. But LGBTQ+ is a group that is very vulnerable to sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. The way many administrators interpret federal regulations, they don’t think Title IX is applicable here. But Title IX coordinators, if they have the bandwidth (we are so overwhelmed), should be pushing back on this. This means that we have to talk to the upper administration; it is not enough to just pull together a group of colleagues who already see the need. We have to push the envelope. Otherwise, this could result in a student protest. LGBTQ+ students will ask, “Why is the university not doing enough for us? Why doesn’t the university have our back?” LGBTQ+ protests against gender violence and discrimination may be the next big movement we’ll see on our campuses.

Daniel Fusch. Title IX coordinators are often so overcommitted in terms of the work that needs to be done and the work that has to be done. Rabia, what would you most want to say or advise to Title IX coordinators about balancing all of this and finding time to “seize the moment” on some of the issues we’ve just discussed?

Rabia Khan Harvey. If Title IX coordinators have deputies, then delegate some of your day-to-day tasks out to those deputies, wherever possible. The Title IX coordinator needs to free up time to focus on systemic issues. If the Title IX coordinator has a direct reporting or communication line to the president or a cabinet-level officer, or—alternatively—has access to a symbolic and respected figure on campus who can influence change, have those conversations.

I am not a big proponent of online surveys, but if coordinators can hold focus groups with LGBTQ+ students, that is a productive way to invest your time. But to do this, the coordinator has to be establish a safe space. The coordinator should bring in an external facilitator, because the coordinator is an employee and may see themselves as being on notice (duty to report). Maybe bring in a facilitator from the diversity office, and have them write up the focus group’s findings anonymously. The facilitator can share this write-up with the coordinator, who then has this data and, importantly, has more leverage for opening the necessary conversations with upper administrators. This will be much more impactful than an online student survey.

Daniel Fusch. What questions do these focus groups need to be asking?

Rabia Khan Harvey. Have you been a victim of sexual violence? Do you believe this is tied to your sexual orientation or gender identity, perceived or actual? Have you utilized support services on campus to either report or to seek counseling? Or do they feel like there is a chilling barrier to them reporting and seeking help? What are those barriers that they have seen? Those barriers—that’s information we need to know.

Partner with researchers on campus to frame the questions well, and with the experts on campus who work closely with these populations.

Daniel Fusch. Rabia, one more question. Looking at recent events at Michigan State University, what are the lessons here for other institutions?

Rabia Khan Harvey. First, if I’m walking onto a campus and there is already a chilling effect, if I as a student or staff member don’t feel safe, is there a way to report anonymously? If there is, then at least administrators who see these reports can start to spot systemic issues. They can see when lots of anonymous reports are coming in from one department, or if all of these reports related ot the athletics division. With anonymous reporting, you can start to identify these systemic concerns without outing victims or survivors.

And that’s important. If the upper administration has let this go by for a long time, then how do people push back at that without exposing themselves to risk? We have to start building a culture that takes note of these issues, before the situation gets to that point. Having a system for anonymous reporting and having people who are willing to look at that data is a critical first step.

Second, make sure a no-retaliation measure is in your Title IX policy.

Title IX asks us to do 3 things: stop the behavior, prevent reoccurrence, and remedy the harm. Michigan State has to re-evaluate all three:

  • You need to terminate people who have let the harm continue.
  • You need to have training about Title IX policy when onboarding new staff.
  • And remedying harm takes a university-wide effort. It will take time to heal, until students feel they can trust their administration again.

You need a culture where students believe they can report, that their report will be responded to, and that it won’t be brushed under the rug or retaliated for.

That can take months, maybe years. Though there is a natural turnover of students given the lifecycle of a degree program, institutions have long memories. Alumni have long memories. You have to build the policy, the practice, and the culture that prevents these types of administrator behaviors from becoming entrenched in the organization. And you need someone in leadership, in a position of power, who can call out behavior that is harming the student body—someone who can, if necessary, speak truth to power and urge action.

Daniel Fusch. Thank you for the interview, Rabia!

Related article: Title IX and Faculty Misconduct–Steps You Need to Take Today