Why Talking About Title IX is Essential

Updated: Dec 19, 2018

Like many academics, I’ve been part of campus communities in a variety of roles: student, graduate student, teaching assistant, tutor, professor. I’ve been teaching since I was in my 20′s. In that time, I have seen too many instances of women experiencing harassment, assault, and abuse while in college. Sexual assault statistics for college campuses are staggering. According to RAINN

Male college-aged students (18-24) are 78% more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

Female college-aged students (18-24) are 20% less likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

More than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October, or November.Students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first and second semesters in college.

I have watched female students drop out of college. I have seen them suffer in whispers and silence. I have watched bright, ambitious women shrink back, wonder if they can finish the semester, the year, their degrees. I have seen them wait for weeks to get a restraining order, heard them give terrifying statements to campus and community police officers  They have come to me with shaking hands and trembling voices, “What can I do?” they ask. They are afraid that they cannot prove an ex is stalking them or that they were assaulted. They are afraid they may have to share a classroom or office with their abuser. They are afraid no one is listening, that the campus will not take action, that no one cares, that they will be a statistic, a victim. 

I have seen bullying of LGBTQ students, overheard comments as they walk to class, watched as they made themselves smaller, tried not to be noticed. 25% of LGBTQ students have said they skip class because the feel unsafe in class or on the way to class. 

All too often on college campuses there has been no recourse. All too often, there is misogynistic, victim-blaming language in reporting documents and campus communication. 

Title IX matters for a lot of reasons. Put simply it requires that schools receiving federal fund not discriminate on the basis of sex.  While the law does not mention sexual violence, its interpretation by courts and the Education Department have required schools to address sexual violence among students. As my good friend, Morgan, said recently in a Facebook post: “Title IX protections do not encourage false claims of abuse. They ask universities to make space for truth-telling. They acknowledge a systemic and often violent marginalization that occurs every day on college campuses.” 

I’m often on campus late. It’s dark when I walk to my car. I do not walk with headphones in; I am careful to take note of my surroundings. I let people know I am leaving. I make sure to have my keys ready to quickly get into my car. I consciously think about keeping my body safe. During a class discussion, I asked students to talk about the things they do to stay safe. All of the women talked about their physical, personal safety. Most of the male classmates talked about preventing their belongings from being stolen. They were surprised at the kinds of actions their female counterparts took, the kinds of things they had to think about. 

It’s exhausting. I’m so emotionally drained these days, dumbfounded sometimes at the fights we’re still having to fight. I cannot and will not stop, however. I will always show up for my students. I just hate that there are spaces I still have to do so, spaces that concern their safety, well-being, ability to thrive. I’ve been on all kinds of college campuses and some do a better job than others at creating a positive culture for women, whether students, staff or faculty. We do what we can inside and outside of the classroom to provide support. There are days, however, it just doesn’t feel like enough, especially when some Title IX protections seem to be in danger. Without the guidelines detailing campus obligations to survivors, without resources to aid universities in survivor assistance,  I fear that even fewer assaults  and instances of harassment will be reported. I fear that women will have to sit in classes with abusers while the investigative process is underway. (This sometimes happens even with current guidelines, according to a colleague at another university). I fear that the culture of college campuses will be affected, leading to even more toxic attitudes toward women’s bodies and sexuality. 

As a feminist, as a sexual assault survivor, as an educator, I am fearful that proposed changes to Title IX will cause significant barriers to women and LGBTQ students having a voice when it comes to power-based personal violence against them. That’s not a culture I want to promote or be part of; that’s not the kind of culture fostered where I currently teach nor on many campuses across the country. And we have to fight to keep it that way, no matter how exhausting it gets. 

On my syllabi, I include a section on Title IX and power-based violence. I let students know that we as a campus and I, as their teacher care about the safety of our students. I provide campus resource phone numbers, explain their rights and responsibilities when it comes to reporting. It is information I hope they never have to use. I tell them this when I share the data on sexual assault averages nationwide. I tell them we care. I tell them I know the conversation is not comfortable but it is important. So every semester I continue to include the information because I want them to understand not only where they can find assistance if it’s needed but also because I feel like it’s important to talk about openly and without fear. I want my students to see me standing up for the right to be heard, even in and perhaps more importantly, in small ways. 

© 2017 by Devon Ralston. 

SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL