Whether students attend in-person classes on campus or learn remotely, colleges and universities have a responsibility to protect students from sexual discrimination, harassment and assault under Title IX federal regulations. It’s essential for schools to implement Title IX policies and procedures, and to provide Title IX training to students, faculty, staff and employees to ensure a safe learning environment.
Distance learning is the new norm at many colleges and universities and falls within the Title IX definition of off-campus activities. It’s a reminder that Title IX responsibilities extend outside the physical confines of campuses, and that training is essential to preventing sexual misconduct wherever education programs and activities occur.
What is Title IX?
Enacted in 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act is a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs and activities at public and private institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX sets policies and procedures schools must implement when receiving and processing complaints of sexual misconduct and protects individuals from retaliation for filing a complaint of sexual misconduct or participating in an investigation.
Last May, the US Department of Education announced Title IX changes in how colleges and universities must respond to complaints of sexual misconduct on campus. The new regulations went into effect in August and hold schools accountable for responding to all known incidents of sexual harassment and adjudicating them fairly.
6 ways to raise awareness of your school’s sexual misconduct policies
A 2019 report by the Association of American Universities reveals that almost 1 in 4 undergraduate women has experienced sexual assault. The rate of non-consensual sexual contact among all students was 13%, further underscoring the importance of training students, faculty, staff and other employees of their rights and obligations to report and address potential incidents of sexual misconduct. Increasing awareness of your school’s sexual misconduct policies should include:
- Explaining what behaviors can constitute sexual misconduct
Sexual misconduct can be verbal and physical behavior that is overt or subtle. It includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship or dating violence, sexual intimidation, sexual exploitation, stalking and other unwelcome behavior that creates a hostile learning and working environment. It can also be sexist comments or treating someone unfairly on the job or in the classroom based on their sex, gender or sexual orientation.
- Describing where policies and procedures apply
Be clear that sexual misconduct is not tolerated at any school location or event. This includes incidents occurring in off-campus housing such as fraternity or sorority houses, and events such as Greek-life parties. Similarly, incidents occurring during online interactions between students and staff members.
- Raising awareness of the Title IX coordinator role
Make sure students, faculty and staff are aware of the roles and responsibilities that the Title IX coordinator has and how to contact them. This individual oversees the school’s response to Title IX reports and complaints, including investigations.
- Educating students on the power of bystander intervention
Bystander intervention training teaches students and staff how to appropriately intervene when they witness sexual misconduct. Actions can include speaking up, intervening directly, enlisting the help of others or contacting someone in authority. By empowering bystanders to interrupt unwanted behaviors on the spot, they can stop sexual misconduct, prevent future incidents, support those targeted by abuse, and send a strong message that such behaviors are unacceptable.
- Teaching the concepts of consent and incapacitation
This begins with clearly communicating what is and isn’t meant by consent and explaining the role that alcohol and other drugs often play in sexual violence. While the definitions may vary from state to state, generally, consent is the mutual agreement to engage in sexual activity, and incapacitation – a condition where an individual is incapable of giving consent to sexual activity. Incapacitation can be caused by sleep or unconsciousness, alcohol or other drugs, or certain disabilities or injuries.
- Communicating the consequences of not reporting sexual misconduct
When individuals fail to report or respond to incidents of sexual misconduct, they put themselves and their school at risk. Further, when targets of sexual misconduct don’t report it, individuals may not get the help they need to deal with emotional and physical health issues. Regular training should be part of ongoing communication efforts to reinforce the obligations of faculty members, supervisory staff, coaches and students to promptly report misconduct and to inform individuals of their rights and available resources.
Teaching individuals about their Title IX rights and responsibilities under a school’s sexual misconduct policy are an important step in fostering a culture that is safe and respectful, on and off campus. Title IX training communicates the obligations students, faculty, staff, coaches and employees have to address, report and prevent sexual discrimination, harassment and assault, and to set a good example with their conduct.
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