AU welcomes full-time Title IX Coordinator
Title IX job is no longer lumped under the role of the Dean of Students
The Office of Campus Life has hired a full-time Title IX Coordinator to solely handle cases involving Title IX.
Heather Pratt took over the position of Title IX Coordinator after a “Dear Colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education expanded the role of Title IX coordinator even further than ever before. Dean of Students Robert Hradsky, who once held Pratt’s responsibilities, said he thought it would be better if he stepped down from the position and the University hired someone from the outside to hold the position separately. Pratt took over the full-time position on Dec. 1.
“[The ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter] really changed the nature of how colleges and universities are supposed to address the issues of interpersonal violence,” Hradsky said. “Since then, they have issued additional guidance that have expanded the role that we play with regard to these issues,” Hradsky said.
The DOE oversees the national position of Title IX and will periodically issue the “Dear Colleague” letters that clarify the different responsibilities of Title IX coordinators under the law. The letters also serve as an expanded guide for universities, high schools, middle and elementary schools that explain their responsibilities under the law, according to Pratt.
Last semester, Hradsky said he brought up the issue of appointing a separate person to the position of Title IX Coordinator during the University budget process in order to ask that the finances be set aside in the budget to appoint a new person to the position.
“We posted the position nationally, so we were really trying to pull from a nationwide pool of applicants who hopefully had experience in areas around sexual harassment, sexual violence,” Hradsky said. “We did have a strong preference for someone with a JD degree, so, an attorney, recognizing that we believe attorneys are well-trained to investigate these kinds of concerns, and understand the compliance requirements under the law, and had a number of applicants.”
Pratt earned her law degree from The Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University, and she also previously worked at the Rite Aid Corporation as the Title VII Coordinator, which is a position that oversees employment and labor laws with regards to civil rights in the same way that a Title IX Coordinator protects against sexual discrimination with regards to education programs and services. The Title IX and Title VII are so closely related that sometimes claims under both laws can be filed, according to Pratt.
“If I thought my employer had discriminated against me based on my sex, for example, I could file a potential claim under Title VII; they’re very closely linked. They’re both civil rights laws, essentially,” Pratt said. “If you want to get down to the bottom of it, making sure that people are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the entire civil rights spectrum is really my interest.”
The distinction between the two laws is that Title IX focuses directly on the higher-education system. The issue involves making sure that the campus climate remains safe; one that the Title IX Coordinator helps the University to accomplish, according to Pratt.
“We have a lot of great resources, we have a lot of expertise, not only within my own background but within the University as a whole and the University is very committed to making sure we have a safe, equitable campus for everybody here,” Pratt said.