The responsibility of a university includes ensuring the safety and protection of its students. However, marginalized populations at American University are continuously let down by an administration that places its own comfort and discretion over issues of discrimination. AU’s Discrimination and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Policy sidesteps this critical role of safety and protection in its lack of procedures that meaningfully prioritize marginalized students’ experiences of discrimination.
AU’s Discrimination and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Policy, implemented and overseen by the Office of Equity and Title IX, contains a complaint procedure — the process in which students report and receive responses to their discrimination claims. This procedure is also recognized as the Equity and Title IX Reporting and Response Process.
The process begins when an individual reports witnessing or experiencing discrimination. The Title IX Office will then arrange an initial intake and assessment meeting about the issue. From there, the Office will either move to conclude the issue by informal resolution, formal resolution or supportive measures. Unfortunately, the complaint procedure fails to adequately address discrimination claims after the initial intake due to high administrative discretion without consultation or checks.
The assistant vice president for Equity and Title IX or a designee alone, typically a case manager, decides how a claim will be concluded. Interestingly, informal resolution is defined to be unsuitable for allegations of sexual assault or dating or domestic violence but is permitted for allegations of racism and colorism, whether violent or not. With a singular person deciding how discrimination claims are concluded, those discriminated against can be easily dismissed by informal resolution or “supportive” measures, and have their claim and potential strife rendered unimportant to the University.
In addition to this concentration of administrative power, the policy’s formal resolution lacks pathways for thorough resolution. The formal resolution process only includes an investigation of the alleged discrimination. One person, again, decides whether there was a policy violation and if any action, such as sanctions, will be taken. One person gets to tell community members whether or not they are being discriminated against, with no process of appeals or review for students who bring their cases. This system grants the University the power to minimally engage with claims of discrimination and dismiss potential harassment, enshrining administrative power.
As a private university that receives federal funding, AU must adhere to federal anti-discrimination laws that obligate the University to carry out prohibitions of discrimination based on race, color, national origin or sex.
So long as AU’s Discrimination and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Policy continues to comply with federal standards, AU can revise and expand upon it. The current procedure amplifies administrative discretion, silencing the voices of marginalized students and allowing discrimination to continue. As it stands, AU’s policy barely prohibits discrimination due to its concentration of power and limited formal resolution processes in its complaint procedure, necessitating change. Instead of its misuse of its power, AU should work to revise its Discrimination and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct Policy.
Despite the Office of Equity and Title IX’s responsibility to address and resolve matters of discrimination, harassment and sexual violence for the entire University, it is severely understaffed with only six staff members. This questions AU’s commitment to taking discrimination reports seriously. It is extremely unlikely that community members would receive prompt and effective care when being discriminated against if this vast responsibility falls onto a mere six people. As revisions are made, more staff should be hired for the Office of Equity and Title IX to manage the changes and existing responsibilities accordingly.
In light of this minimization of marginalized people’s voices, AU’s discrimination policy should include supervisors or chairs that oversee each formal resolution or investigation and weigh in on the issue’s conclusion with the assistant vice president. I understand that the issue of discrimination is highly subjective whether one person or 10 people examine the issue, but one person should not get to decide whether people of color, religious minorities or other marginalized groups are being discriminated against or not.
Changes to AU’s policy must include a process of appeals for claims and an anti-racist amendment to the policy. A process of appeals would allow impacted students to advocate for their cases, an opportunity that is entirely absent in the University’s current policy. A potential appeals process could be in the form of a live hearing, with a panel specifically dedicated to appeals so as to not overwhelm potentially limited staff. The anti-racist amendment could implement a department to provide and mandate sensitivity and discrimination training to all employees and offices related to AU’s policy, with a member of the department present for each step of the complaint process.
Reporting discrimination is exhausting and vulnerable. A singular employee should not have the power to turn away an individual so absolutely. This rampant error necessitates policy revisions of increased supervision, training and amendments. Implementing these changes would be difficult, but a discrimination policy should prioritize the protection of its students regardless of how difficult the process of such change may be.
Rebeca Samano is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and a staff columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Zoe Bell, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Isabelle Kravis.