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Friday, March 1, 2024
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Staff Editorial: Survivors at AU deserve better

Breaking the law is no small feat. The Title IX Office is in desperate need of improvements.

On March 2, an Eagle investigation into the American University Office of Equity and Title IX revealed the University broke multiple statutes of Title IX law.

More than three weeks later, the University’s silence speaks volumes. This is no small issue. The investigation accuses AU of breaking the law, yet the AU community has not received any sort of acknowledgment from administration of its failures. The Office of Equity and Title IX must take responsibility for its actions, or in this case, a lack thereof, and recognize that it has made mistakes. 

The Office of Equity and Title IX is a complex area to navigate for American University students. Since the Office complies with the U.S. Department of Education’s policies, many of its changes happen without student input. There are many areas the Office can change, however, and for whatever reason it chooses not to. 

For example, the Office’s response times have come under fire recently. The Eagle interviewed students who received minimal and insufficient communication from the Office. For one student who requested and was approved for a no-contact order, they never received documentation of it. Although this instance thankfully did not result in tragedy for the survivor, a miscommunicated no-contact order can lead to extremely traumatic consequences, especially in situations of stalking. 

By law, Title IX requires institutions to provide written documentation of all complaint outcomes, including no-contact orders. 

The length of investigations are problematic as well. A student had an initial meeting with Title IX in September, yet their hearing did not occur until March. Until 2017, schools had 60 days to complete Title IX investigations. Since the elimination of this rule, there is no required timeline for how quickly schools must investigate complaints. This rule change leads to administrative delays further wearing down survivors. Investigations should be prompt and offer support for survivors. 

Title IX also requires schools to provide a timeline of investigations to complainants, including when they should receive an outcome of the investigation. 

The Eagle’s Editorial Board discussed some student examples of the Office of Equity and Title IX not updating survivors of their complaint status, showing a pattern of miscommunication between the Office and survivors from across the University.

Many students find the Title IX process itself to be very confusing. The AU website does not help with this. It is blocks of text with a massive, difficult-to-read FAQ page. George Washington University’s Title IX office website is much more streamlined and easy to navigate. A notable feature is a PDF acting as a one-stop shop for all Title IX needs, including a page of resources and an explainer on Title IX procedures and definitions. AU’s closest version of this is the sticker found on the back of bathroom stalls, which is not available to read anywhere online. Students shouldn’t have to go to the bathroom to learn more about their Title IX resources. As one of the first places a survivor looks when seeking help, AU’s Title IX website needs to be improved. 

Students have a negative perception of Title IX due to the many less-than-ideal experiences students have had with the AU office. To move towards a more trusting future, there are clear, actionable steps the Office of Equity and Title IX can and should take. As a start, representatives from the Office must begin attending the Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence, which they have not done so far. It is highly perplexing why the Office has not been doing so already. A clear, easy to read and easily accessible resource, like GWU has, would be extremely helpful as well. The Office should offer clear timelines for survivors and update them on their cases as much as possible. Listening to student demands and being transparent are vital. Without changes, survivors will continue being hesitant to contact Title IX for support leading to so many young people feeling alone. 

Being a survivor is already traumatizing enough. AU should do everything it can to lessen that burden for students, not contribute to it.

This article was edited by Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Sarah Clayton.

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