I was attending a conference recently on Title IX as it relates to sexual harassment/sexual assaults in higher education. One of the participants came up to me and said she was curious who the Title IX coordinator was for her campus, so she emailed the president of her school from the conference and asked. His response... "You are."
So, for those who are new to the work of Title IX compliance, or even those who have been doing this for a while, I offer a few things to consider. Of course, this work is extremely complex and those doing this work should be as skilled and as qualified as possible. There are valuable resources that can help you gain the knowledge needed to carry out all of your duties as the Title IX coordinator. In addition, I strongly recommend reading the information put out by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. OCR provides many very helpful resources and information, including most recently their April 4, 2011 "Dear Colleague Letter" regarding Title IX that can help you understand your role, especially as OCR sees it.
- Understand Your Role and Responsibilities
It may sound simple enough, but I have investigated many schools where the Title IX coordinator was not aware of his or her role or did not understand what it meant. Title IX requires that a recipient of federal funding appoint at least one person as the Title IX coordinator. It is this person that OCR will expect to have full knowledge of the law and be able to discuss all of the school's Title IX compliance efforts. Also, keep in mind that when you are working closely with campus partners to carry out your duties, they may not know or fully appreciate the expectations of the federal government, but you must.
- Understand Your Responsibilities... and Then Carry Them Out
Again, this may seem simple. However, this can be extremely difficult to get right and the consequences for getting it wrong can be severe. Do you know how to conduct a civil rights investigation that will meet your community's and OCR's expectations? There are a lot of considerations when conducting a civil rights investigation. If you currently don't understand what is expected, you must acquire that knowledge immediately. Title IX was passed in 1972 - it would be hard to explain any school's not fully understanding and successfully implementing their Title IX obligations at this point, 40 years later. OCR and other federal investigators are very dedicated and sincere people who believe strongly in enforcing laws and ensuring justice. Your lack of understanding of your role and how to carry it out is unlikely to be viewed sympathetically, to say the least.
- Balance Your Responsibilities
This can be hard work. Title IX coordinators have a variety of interests they must meet. They are colleagues and members of their school's communities. They collaborate and work closely with various school offices and officials, many of whom may have other interests or concerns to promote beyond Title IX compliance. As such, it can be difficult at times when your views and thoughts about Title IX compliance are the opposite of your campus partners. How do you preserve your relationships while still making sure the campus is compliant with the law? I suggest taking a balanced approached that shows that you are both a valuable partner who works closely with campus partners, but that you also understand that Title IX compliance is ultimately your responsibility. Yes, everyone at your school should feel a sense of responsibility and ownership to promote compliance with Title IX; however, the coordinator is the one designated to ensure compliance. Keep in mind, when OCR comes to your campus to conduct an investigation into how your school handled its Title IX obligations, YOU are the person who will be asked questions about what happened and why. Your work may not always be appreciated or popular with everyone all the time, but in the end, you are doing what is in the best interest of your institution. Always keep that in mind.
- Work Closely with Campus Partners
This may sound counter to the point above, but it is not. Just as you balance your responsibilities, you must collaborate and partner with campus stakeholders. I think it is important for everyone, not just the Title IX coordinator, to understand their respective roles. Advocates are expected to advocate. Student affairs colleagues are expected to put each student and their interests first and foremost. Housing officials are expected to want to safeguard the residential community. General counsel is expected to offer guidance regarding all legal aspects. And, the Title IX coordinator must work closely with everyone. Students who are involved in a sexual harassment/assault matter will likely need to be separated if they live in the same residence hall and/or share the same class. Student affairs and housing are key partners in such separations. The complainant and respondent will likely benefit from support services offered by the university and surrounding community. Advocates and student affairs colleagues are key partners in linking students to those support services. You may have a question about Title IX, your policies, or OCR's (or courts') interpretations of Title IX. General counsel is a key partner in answering those questions. The dean of students, judicial affairs, counseling services, etc., will likely be very interested in how they can support everyone in the investigative process and beyond. These offices are all key partners, and each has a valuable role to play.
- Know That Title IX Covers More Than Sports - and More Than Sexual Harassment/Assault
And finally, the fifth thing a Title IX coordinator must know - Title IX covers more than sports and sexual harassment/sexual assault. If you did not know much about Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, after you read OCR's April 4 "Dear Colleague Letter" you might think Title IX only covered sexual harassment/assault. Or, if you thought about Title IX before April 2011, you may have thought only about sports. In fact, Title IX covers sex discrimination in a variety of forms. Not just sexual harassment, not just sports, but also discrimination and different treatment based on sex. For example, did you know OCR typically looks at 13 areas of an athletics program when assessing Title IX compliance? Does your institution have policies in place to investigate sex discrimination complaints that fall outside of sexual harassment/sexual assault? In addition, have you conducted training on your campus to cover all the various aspects of Title IX? The point is that the Title IX coordinator has a lot of responsibilities and must be familiar with all of them to be successful.
In the end, Title IX coordinators, working closely with all their campus and community partners, play a vital role. They ensure a fair and equitable process exists to address serious matters. They balance the interests of all parties while at the same time ensuring compliance with school policy and Title IX. Title IX coordinators have a lot of responsibilities, but when they carry out those responsibilities properly, they help create and maintain a welcoming, supportive, equitable and safe environment for every member of their campus community.