Augustana’s Title IX aims to stay updated

Natalie McMillan

Augustana College has been working to keep its title IX policies up to date and more understandable to students.
Jessica Schultz, the deputy title IX coordinator said, “There were changes made this summer. The Task Force contracted with and identified Husch-Blackwell, which is an outside law firm to review our policies and procedures. They made some suggestions about clarifying some pieces of definitions, so those were implemented along with some other review pieces.”
Abigail Rose, co-chair of the new Title IX Student-Advisor Committee said, “We’ve changed a lot of language in our title IX policies to be more clear and more accessible for people seeking the title IX process.”
Earlier this fall, the Title IX Task Force, an advising group comprised of faculty members, staff, administrators and students, disbanded. “I wouldn’t say that they’re dissolved as if that work is completely done. Instead I’d say it’s been handed over; so they’re work is being carried on,” Schultz said.
Rose said, “Once the task force ended, we decided that the Student-Advisor Committee would go on to be a neutral place for the student body to voice concerns about title IX and then we would take those to the administration and act like a go-between.”
Senior Kaylee Sye, Rose’s co-chair, said, “Basically, we were formed just to give input to the Title IX team, to have students giving input on things that they are talking about and how things are changing. Then going into this year, we did a lot of recruiting and we wanted to recruit people that represented a wide range of the student body just so that we have every demographic of the student body.”
The biggest concern to title IX this year is Betsy DeVos’ proposed guidelines to the Department of Education concerning major changes to title IX policies in schools.
“I can’t speak much for administration on that, but for student board I can,” Rose said about DeVos’ proposal. “We were pretty shocked. We had a meeting when I first sent out a link to the full guidelines and then a summary provided by survivor rights advocates. We had a meeting after everyone combed through those. We were all pretty against a lot of them. There were nine key issues that I think people were pretty upset about and we had a long conversation about how those would affect Augustana.”
Schultz said, “Those are proposed guidelines. I think it was about 100 pages of guidelines. [The Department of Education] had a 60-day notice and comment period; the response was enormous. There were over 100,000 comments that they received from the public, including comments from President Bahls, the Student-Advisor Committee and I think Positive Impact also submitted some comments. So voices of our campus community were responding to and offering feedback on those guidelines.”
With all these voices commenting on the guidelines, the Department of Education will have to review them before releasing anything official. It is still unknown when the department will release their official guidelines.
“When those final guidelines are released, we will need to comply with those,” Schultz said. “So, we will have a very intensive process in working through that, making sure we’re engaging with the Student-Advisor Committee and the Sexual Health and Violence Prevention Committee. Other members of the community as well. Again, that’s not happening right now. We won’t be making changes to the proposed regulations until we have finalized regulations.”
As a result, there will not be any changes to the policy until the summer. “We don’t want the policy to change mid-way through the year in a way that may cause confusion amongst students,” Schultz said. “Every summer, the title IX team does a thorough review of that policy.”
There are many things the college is doing to improve sexual health on campus, such as challenging culture and climate by thinking of ways  to engage and empower students.
“As we think about our policies we are committed to doing what’s best for our campus, being in compliance with current regulations and guidelines, doing what’s best for our campus is our priority, and we want to be leaders in that, we want to be leaders in the state of Illinois, we want to be leaders of the nation in that commitment in doing right by our students,” Schultz said.
Rose said, “I hope the student body trusts the title IX system. I think it’s a hard thing to do, because it’s a very legalistic system. And it seems very cruel at times because of that, but I think it’s a good system.”
Schultz stated that the changes to title IX would be communicated before next school year since the policy will be in effect as students return to campus during the fall.
“I think that more students are aware of what’s going on in title IX compared to past years I’ve been at Augustana, compared to my last three years, so I think it’s good,” Sye said. “I think that we have a lot of student voices giving input to it. And I think that the Title IX team is very appreciative of that too, and we’re appreciative of them being so receptive to us.”