January 29, 2019

BLOG: A Call to Restructure Our Conversations Around Title IX

On December 10, 2018, Georgetown University administrators and students came together for a listening session to discuss the new Title IX regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Recently, there have been a number of concerns among the student body that the proposed changes to Title IX will pose additional legal challenges for survivors.

Photo of flyers at the Georgetown University Women's Center
Photo of flyers at the Georgetown University Women's Center

The university’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Todd Olson, opened the evening’s event by reassuring the student body that the administration will continue to seek transparency in its communications around the Title IX process. A legal representative of the university facilitated the rest of the listening session. She responded to student concerns and explained the impact of the new Title IX proposed regulations. The university verbally committed to continuing to address off-campus reports, to actively recruiting for a permanent Title IX Coordinator, and to sending out a copy of the notes from the listening sessions to the Georgetown community at the beginning of the new year.

There was a palpable tension in the room between students who believed the administration has been lackadaisical in their response to students’ concerns regarding the university’s existing Title IX process, and the administration who has continued to promise students that their intentions are always to provide a fair process for all students. The university maintains that it serves first-and-foremost as an invested advocate for students; a claim that could be corroborated by the long list of high-ranking administrators in attendance and willing to participate in these listening sessions.

Beyond this tension, I recognized another underlying inequity. As a student of color at a primarily white institution, I have become more and more aware of the lack of representation for my voice in university spaces. As is the case with most issues or concerns on campus, the voices of students of color are either unheard or trivialized by the larger university populace. 

Sexual assault does not discriminate. It is a serious issue and one that affects identities beyond white cis women. When I walked into the listening session, I was utterly aware that I was one of only a handful of other students of color in a room full of white women. I do not want my point to be misconstrued: Title IX is an important concern for all students, including white women. Still, we would be doing ourselves a disservice not to recognize the representational inequity at the session. 

Some may argue that this is an issue that should be addressed among students of color, as the event was one that was open to the entire student body; however, this ignores the realities of systemic inequities, institutional racism, and a legacy of injustice that has historically disregarded the important intersectional nature of our identities. The university, as well as the students leading Title IX initiatives, should reconsider the way in which they frame sexual assault narratives on-campus so that they are more inclusive of students of color. 

There are tangible solutions to make Title IX conversations on campus more inclusive. A few brave voices brought these to the attention of their fellow students and the administration present at the listening session. Students suggested that Georgetown provide free or subsidized legal counsel to “level the playing field” in cases that currently function like courtrooms, according to many students’ perceptions of current Title IX hearings. The suggestion corresponds to specific language that appears in the proposed regulations, which indicates that those involved in Title IX cases are able to appoint an “advisor of [their] choice,” or in the case that a student does not appoint an advisor, the university will be required to provide one aligned with the respective party. Students voiced concerns that this could lead to inequities in advising. In response to the proposed language regarding the required “cross-examination” of each party by the other party’s advisor, one student of color added, “there are marginalized communities on campus that will face more barriers with cross-examination, not only socioeconomic equity issues.” 

The administration should take time to re-evaluate current on-campus resources. Do these resources receive equal funding for providing Title IX-related support? Are the LQBTQ Center, the Women’s Center, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, etc., being included in these conversations to the fullest extent? How and where are events, such as listening sessions, being publicized, and are those venues accessible to and inclusive of the entire community? 

We spend a disproportionately large amount of time talking about improving processes around Title IX without addressing the nuances of sexualities, racial/ethnic identities, and gendered language that can often exclude students whose voices are repeatedly silenced. Perhaps working to improve the way we as students, and the university as an institution, structure conversations around Title IX is what is in need of the most improvement.

This post was prepared by Maya Stevenson (C'20) as part of the HoyasForShe Student Fellowship.