Staff Editorial: The University’s approach to sexual violence education informative, but flawed
Record number of Title IX investigations cases makes it unclear how well University is handling the process of filing sexual violence reports
As of March 2019, the University has five open federal investigations from the Office of Civil Rights, a part of the Department of Education, into the Title IX office. This is a record number of complaints for the medium-sized university that AU is categorized as. There are some schools with four complaints, but one of those universities has a population of 40,000 students, a radically different percentage and likelihood of this number of open investigations. Each of the University’s investigations has been opened in the last four years, and notably, we do not know who filed these investigations or why they filed them.
As members of the student body, these investigations still being open after years, in some cases, is troubling. The fact that students know that they can open these investigations would seem to be a positive, but the fact that so many have opened is concerning.
It is likely not AU's fault that some of these cases have been open for so long. As political administrations change, so do their priorities. However, there should be better communication from the University about these cases existing and what AU may be doing to improve their Title IX process.
Anyone who spends some time on campus is aware of the political and social activism of the student body. That may mean that this number of cases is reflective of a school doing its part to educate students on their rights when it comes to Title IX and sexual violence.
The Empower AU program is well-implemented, educating students about the issues of sexual violence and intervention skills for the first time in an academic setting. With leaders who treat the subject matter seriously and encourage questions, first-year students at AU are getting exposed to the resources and processes they need to know about early in their college careers. AU’s Palmer Survey has shown that students know more about Title IX after the Empower AU course, as other universities use Empower AU as a model for their own schools.
Empower AU and the inclusion of Title IX education in AUx courses is a rare case of the University acting proactively on an issue. At other universities, open discussion about these issues is more rare, which makes attitudes on those campuses entirely different.
Education programs lead to an increase in reports filed because students are more aware of their rights. What is an issue is how that education continues past orientation.
For older students who did not take AUx, Empower AU is now a distant memory. Different clubs require more training on Title IX issues, which can have a positive impact on the culture within that club. But that isn’t a consistent requirement for any student organizations, and arguably should be, as different organizations continue to be removed from campus for hazing or sexual violence.
Title IX education for freshmen has also varied over the years. Many students go into AUx with a negative attitude, unwilling to engage in such an important discussion or the instructor may not make the lesson particularly engaging for students.
Visits from members of the Title IX office could make a difference in the interest level. The University has to do more to continue students’ education and awareness, aside from campus events that students may have difficulty attending.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider about the culture at AU surrounding Title IX is the need for it to be addressed by students. Preventing sexual violence is nearly impossible to measure, but students must continue to empower each other to make whatever decision is best for a survivor. Allyship only works if students put in the work to make sure that survivors feel supported, and students’ lack of awareness of these complaints is an issue. Without activism by the University student body, it is difficult to see any improvements being made in the Title IX process.
These five open federal investigations indicate that at least on some level, there are issues with parts of the Title IX process. AU is doing better work than many other universities in handling a structural problem, but there are still flaws that need readdressing so that any student that needs Title IX’s help knows that they are getting the support they need.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's December 2019 print edition.