By Lily Mura, ’23
Last spring students in the Action Against Sexual Violence Club (AASV) wrote an open letter detailing their complaints surrounding Title IX violations and shortcomings at Earlham. Title IX is a government law included in the Education Amendments of 1972. It protects people in federally-assisted educational programs from sex-based discrimination. Since Earlham receives Federal funding it falls under the jurisdiction of the law.
Included in the open letter were claims of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violations, calls for more readily available information about Title IX, and a request for external training for all Student Life staff members. The letter demanded that these issues be addressed by August. In September, Bonita Washington-Lacey, Vice President for Student Life, and the remainder of the Title IX resource team issued a response to these concerns from students.
The Student Life office claimed that it had made a number of structural and procedural changes to its Title IX programs. Leah Reynolds was hired as the Assistant Vice President for Title IX Education and Programming in September of 2019. The number of Title IX investigators was also expanded in the hope to provide more access to Title IX resources to students. In a direct response to the grievances detailed in the open letter, members of the Title IX resource team stated that it had revised and updated the information on the Title IX website, that information had been distributed detailing Title IX procedures at New Student Orientation, and that training for Student Life staff had already occurred.
“Could it be better? Yes. But I think they did a lot. I think there was a big change after the letter, especially by hiring Leah and changing the structure of Title IX investigation,” said Tamara Blagojevic, co-convener of AASV, when asked if the response by the administration was enough. Both Blagojevic and her co-convener, Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne, believe that there were a lot of positive changes made by the administration in response to the open letter but yet acknowledge that there were some shortcomings in Earlham’s response.
‘It does sound like there is a robust overhaul for NSO that will be put in place this coming summer but it doesn’t seem like they were implemented this past fall and that’s disappointing, and did not meet the demands of our letter but we’re still happy it’s happening,” commented Feldberg-Bannatyne. The club has a lot of goals for the future for continuing to improve Earlham’s Title IX policies and hold the school accountable which they claim should not have had to happen in the first place.
“The burden has fallen on students to organize to call out any malpractice we see and hold them to a standard they should be meeting,” continued Feldberg-Bannatyne. The club plans to publish aggregate data on sexual misconduct reports, post a survivor’s bill of rights on the website, implement bystander intervention training that addresses the complexities of identity like race and gender, coordinate the Involvement of Genesis, and change the training and structure of the Student Conduct Council. The two conveners said that one of their most important accomplishments was finally releasing a Title IX website where up-to-date information could be easily accessed by students. The website can be accessed at https://earlham.edu/title-ix-information/
This conversation between Earlham students and staff comes at a time of possible change for Title IX on college campuses. In 2018, Betsy DeVos, the current US Secretary of Education, proposed rule changes for college responses to reports of sexual misconduct. In 2017, DeVos rescinded a 2011 letter written by the Obama administration that broadened college and universities’ responsibilities when it came to sexual misconduct reports. In summary, the proposed changes by Devos would effectively decrease the responsibilities of higher education programs by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, giving colleges the option to use a higher standard of proof, and limiting the jurisdiction of college investigations to reports that happen on campus or at an educational program.
“I think they’re pretty scary,” replied Feldberg-Bannatyne. After the proposed changes were released, they were subject to a 60-day review period by the public. There have been over 124,000 public comments on the proposal. Devos issued a statement hoping that the changes would be officially reported by the end of 2019 but they have yet to be released.
This past year has been a time of change and challenges for Title IX at Earlham and across the U.S. Students at Earlham and beyond have made complaints to their colleges regarding what they think Title IX enforcement should look like. The changes to Earlham’s Title IX team could foreshadow a number of nation-wide changes to the program.