Administratiors, students respond to Title IX changes


The policies of the federal gender equity law, Title IX, have changed this year, and as a result, Augustana’s administration, faculty and students decided communication of sex discrimination needed to change as well.
Title IX, mandated by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), prohibits discrimination based on sex within any federally funded education system. The OCR mandated changes in the spring detailing what actions schools and colleges must and should take in response to a reported sexual assault.
Jane Simonsen, associate professor of history, helped start Augustana’s first task force on this issue at the end of last year, which focuses on creating communication about Title IX and sex discrimination among faculty and students.
Simonsen approached President Steven Bahls last year about changes needed within Augustana, and Bahls said that prevention of sex discrimination and sexual assaults was a priority.
“Students need to know their rights and know the consequences; the faculty and staff also need to know what their role in reporting is,” said Simonsen.
The task force consists of more than 15 administration, faculty and student members, who advise other faculty and students within the college on how to prevent and address sexual assault in relation to Title IX. There are three subgroups within the task force: one for students, one for faculty and another promoting communication on how to create a safer and healthier campus environment, Simonsen said.
Sophomore Kierstyn Westfall, like Simonsen, wanted to see more changes on campus after taking a victim advocacy class with St. Ambrose and Augustana students this fall and learning St. Ambrose has an on-campus group dedicated to bystander intervention.
Westfall, along with other students from her victim advocacy class, decided to create a group on campus called Understanding Sexual Assault (USA), to help students understand what resources are available for victims of sexual assault.
“We just want to be a link between faculty and students and just have a comfortable environment to talk about rape and sexual assault, what to do, how to deal with it,” said Westfall.
The student-led group is not yet an official group on campus, but will hold weekly meetings to discuss sexual assault and help students understand what Title IX is and how it applies to them. USA also plans to change the posters in bathroom stalls in residence halls to reflect correct facts on sexual assault and create a more user-friendly Augustana web page listing resources available for sexual assault
These changes in Title IX related communication at Augustana come in response to the 46-page Q&A style document the OCR released in April focusing on sex discrimination in relation to sexual violence and assaults.
General Counsel Sheri Curran said Augustana has never tolerated sex discrimination, but the difference this year is that the “definitions of sex discrimination have really been
Associate Dean Wendy Hilton-Morrow, one of four Title IX coordinators at Augustana, works with faculty and students to understand what these Title IX changes mean for the college.
“So whereas sexual assault may have been covered in other areas of the handbook, now it’s more sort of all in one place under Title IX,” said Hilton-Morrow.
Title IX, which first came into effect in 1972, focused on sex discrimination in athletics in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This meant, for example, that a school could not be more lenient in punishing an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault who is an athlete rather than a non-athlete.
But Curran, who has worked closely in helping administration and faculty understand the changes of Title IX, said the discussion of the federal policy within the nation and Augustana has transitioned towards sexual assault.
“What’s new is that the Office for Civil Rights has said, ‘And here’s what we want schools to do to combat sexual violence,’” said Curran. “It’s a much more, I think, aggressive and ambitious list than ever existed before.”
Hilton-Morrow explained that schools and colleges like Augustana must treat alleged perpetrators and victims of sexual assault equally, rather than discouraging victims to come forward and report acts of sexual violence.
A list of more than 80 colleges under investigation for the handling of sexual assault cases was made public by the U.S. Department of Education this fall. The OCR consistently reviews educational systems, but the list of schools is not normally revealed to the public, Curran said.
Sexual assault is not uncommon in college-aged students. According to a report conducted in 2012 by the Center for Disease Control, 19 percent of undergraduate college women experienced attempted or completed sexual assault. This academic year, there has been three reported sexual assaults at Augustana.
Curran said she hopes any student who thinks he or she has been sexually assaulted would feel comfortable coming forward to report the incident to a Title IX coordinator.
The four Title IX coordinators at Augustana include Hilton-Morrow, Associate Dean Mark Anderson, Director of Residential Life Christina Lorge-Grover and Director of Human Resources Laura Ford, chief Title IX coordinator.
These coordinators deal with any Title IX complaints filed by students or faculty and work along side Public Safety in investigating sexual assault cases. They connect victims of sexual assault to on and off-campus resources like counseling and decide whether the college is able to honor requests of the victim as to what type of action should be taken.
“First and foremost, it’s understanding what happened, completing the investigation, deciding what needs to be done to make sure the alleged victim is able to stay at Augustana and remains successful,” said Curran.
Curran and Lorge-Grover led a discussion Dec. 2 with students, explaining what Title IX means and encouraging students to express concerns. Curran and Hilton-Morrow said more forums and discussions will be held throughout the year to give students a voice on what changes need to be made on campus.
Simonsen said more needs to be done to spread the word on preventing sexual assaults, so that the faculty knows how to respond to a report of sexual assault and that student leaders need to train themselves and other peers on how to address sex discrimination.
The task force, she said, is just the starting point in starting these kinds of discussions.
“One of the thing I really hope that was an original idea behind (the task force) is to really get students involved,” Simonsen said. “This is your campus as much as anybody else’s. The students have so much energy, and if anyone is going to fix the campus culture, it’s going to be the students.”