SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Title IX is more than sports and numbers. And it’s not just for females.
“One big misconception is that Title IX is only for sports. Another misconception is that it’s only for students,” said Michelle Johnson, the director of Equal Opportunity and Title IX coordinator at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Staff, guests and program participants on a campus are covered by Title IX, she said.
“There is the misconception that it’s only females,” Johnson said. All individuals are protected under Title IX regardless of gender. It doesn’t matter if it’s academics, housing…”
Protection against discrimination by gender, for example, applies to all on campus, Johnson said.
“The biggest thing we want our Title IX coordinators to do is be an ambassador for our student body, a conduit for issues that come out. We can break down barriers on our campus by having our Title IX coordinators there, accessible and able to help with issues,” Brian Maher, the executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents said.
“We do have a Title IX on each of six campuses the structure is a little bit different from one to another but the overall consistency comes from the board office where we oversee Title IX compliance,” Maher said.
Johnson and Maher said Title IX is gender focused while equal opportunity deals more broadly with diverse populations including the disabled.
Title IX protection has evolved in the 50 years since its inception. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S Department of Justice describes Title IX as “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX was part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and while the quickest impact was on women’s sports the protection extends beyond sports.
Maher recalled that as a seventh-grader in Nebraska, Title IX meant the school was dismissed during the day for a high school girls basketball game.
“It became more than sports, more than just admissions and scholarships,” Maher said. “And thus, the need for Title IX coordinators.”
“The issue of contact and support comes in. How do we make sure our students, particular our female students have the support necessary to navigate the college system,” Maher said.
It’s only been in the past 12 years or so that it was emphasized that the protection of Title IX includes coverage of reports of sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and similar reports on college campuses, Johnson said.
The federal Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, released guidance and recommendations on including sexual assault as a piece of Title IX in the early 2000s, Johnson said. But in 2011 the office stepped up the emphasis on how Title IX is a protection for sexual violence and similar, Johnson said.
The importance of Title IX is to encourage a report so the university can respond, We need to make sure the university is inviting to all in all areas, Johnson said.
It’s critical that students know they can report incidents and that the university follows up, Johnson said.
A report of an allegation is reviewed and investigated. There are also live hearings involved, Johnson said.
“We track for patterns,” Johnson said. The tracking is used to determine if incident(s) are happening during a certain area or a certain time of day, she said.
A Title IX coordinator will also work with the appropriate law enforcement, she said, but the Title IX investigation is separate from any law enforcement investigation. The two entities make sure not to interfere with each other’s roles, she said.
Title IX coordinators will receive reports of sexual discrimination, sexual assault or sexual harassment but what happened when those positions didn’t exist?
Incidents may not have been reported so ohnson and Maher said there is no exact data to show any increases or decreases in incidents.
“I can’t say the numbers are higher than they were higher 10 or 20 years ago or the numbers are lower,” Johnson said.
There is no data on incidents that went unreported so the board can’t compare today’s results with the past, Maher said.
“But, I believe we are far superior today in our ability to have the contact and to have the reporting mechanisms for our students then we were honestly, a decade and certainly couple decades ago,” Maher said. “The reporting issue has come a long, long ways.”
It’s also natural that if more attention has been placed on Title IX’s coverage of gender discrimination and related incidents, more reports would follow, Johnson said.
“Unfortunately there is always going to be crime against others. There’s always going to be gender discrimination and violent gender-based crimes, therefore there will always be a need for a Title IX coordinator,” Johnson said.
The risk if you don’t follow Title IX
Universities that don’t follow Title IX risk not helping their students and staff when they need help, Johnson said.
As a dad, Maher said, “If we don’t do all we can to eliminate sexual assault from our campuses, then shame on us.”
Need that contact person on campus, Maher said.
There is also a financial risk.
“Universities that don’t follow Title IX and university don’t have Title IX coordinators can lose all financial funding,” Johnson said. “At a place like SDSU where a lot of our funding comes from student support or state, people may think ‘well I don’t have very much federal dollars why would I need to follow Title IX?’ Well we also accept funding from students for financial aid that is federal. We have grants that are federal. If the university has one area that receives federal dollars the entire university must comply and if they don’t they can lose funding.”
If a university does not follow Title IX, universities lose reputation, lose status. Johnson said. If it appears that reports are not being responded to, and or those get media attention, the reputation can be harmed.
Title IX will continue to have an impact on college and universities, Maher and Johnson said.
“We follow with great regularity the federal guidelines and rules and those have a tendency to change particularly with one (federal) administration to another,” Maher said.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth and changes. There will continue to be growth and changes which is needed. We don’t want a stagnant law…” Johnson said.