This post contains not only content related to sexual violence that may be triggering, but links to content that may be triggering. Links may discuss sexual violence/trauma in much more detail than this post, particularly the two documentaries linked (The Hunting Ground and It Happened Here).
Title IX is a landmark civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. Although you only really hear about Title IX in context of colleges and universities, it applies to all educational institutions (kindergarten through higher education, including vocational schools) that receive federal funding.
Title IX is only one sentence, which is why there are many different opinions and interpretations of how this law should operate: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (Office for Civil Rights). Here is a legal document explaining much more in-depth what “discrimination based on sex” means/looks like.
This law was originally only really used to help cisgender women gain sports equity in schools. There were (and still are) issues with funding and recruitment for women’s teams, along with issues of allowing girls to play or participate in sports at all. On the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s website, they very nicely break down how Title IX applies to athletics:
“Participation: Title IX requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports. Title IX does not require institutions to offer identical sports but an equal opportunity to play;
Scholarships: Title IX requires that female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation; and
Other benefits: Title IX requires the equal treatment of female and male student-athletes in the provisions of: (a) equipment and supplies; (b) scheduling of games and practice times; (c) travel and daily allowance/per diem; (d) access to tutoring; (e) coaching, (f) locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities; (g) medical and training facilities and services; (h) housing and dining facilities and services; (i) publicity and promotions; (j) support services and (k) recruitment of student-athletes.”
In 2011, a very important Dear Colleague letter came out explaining that acts of sexual violence qualify as sex discrimination, and thus Title IX obligates schools to protect their students from sexual violence. You can learn about different types of sexual violence here in another post I made. The letter explains why sexual violence falls under the scope of Title IX, and what is now expected of educational institutions in regards to prevention and education. The letter is long, but pretty easy to understand. However, Know Your IX does an amazing job at breaking down what you need to know. Here is a similar breakdown on the OCR website.
It is important to note that Title IX does not only protect cis women. Title IX also protects students who do not conform to stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, including transgender and nonbinary students. The US Department of Education / Office for Civil Rights also outlines this on their website, and provides many resources to read and learn more including: letters, resource guides, legal guidelines, and related court cases. Title IX could and should also protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or queer students from heteronormative discrimination.
On an equally important and related note: School’s can claim religious exemption and do not have to be in compliance with Title IX. Unfortunately, this is perfectly legal and allows schools to discrimination against LGBT+ students and pregnant students. You can read a Teen Vogue article here, as well as a PDF explaining more about these issues.
Now… The law sounds good, and overall is an amazing step to protect survivors of sexual violence and discrimination, but schools often do a horrible job at implementing this law and completely disregard survivor’s rights. With documentaries like The Hunting Ground and It Happened Here, you can see schools are still failing survivors. You can read about my own personal experience here (please be mindful of the content warning at the top of the post). My post does not even cover all of the Title IX violations my college had/has, by the way.
But it gets worse unfortunately! Betsy DeVos has proposed plans to rollback guidance set in the Dear Colleague letter from 2011. You can read about these rollbacks here on Know Your IX, here in these two Campus Safety articles: one published in November 2018 and the other published in August 2018. The Chronicle also did an article in November 2018 to discuss these changes.
All of these articles touch on very important and honestly dangerous changes. A few big ones are: schools would no longer be required to investigate or take action to protect survivors if the incident does not happen at school/on campus, the definition of sexual harassment would be narrower, and the standard of evidence could be higher.
These are my three biggest complaints, personally, because many colleges and universities allow students to live off-campus in apartments, or incidents happen at bars. Some violations may happen online. A higher standard of evidence only hurts survivors as many do not go to the hospital to do a rape kit (not to mention the backlog…), and often even in cases of rape but especially in incidents of harassment or other forms of sexual violence there is no actual physical proof (bruises, semen, etc.) besides the survivor’s testimony.
I will link to someone in support of these changes, because they raise a very important point about racial discrimination in Title IX cases:
“The Office of Civil Rights does not collect data on race in Title IX cases, but the little we know is disturbing: An analysis of assault accusations at Colgate, for example, found that while only 4.2 percent of the college’s students were black in the 2012-13 school year, 50 percent of the sexual-violation accusations reported to the school were against black students, and blacks made up 40 percent of the students who went through the formal disciplinary process.
We have long over-sexualized, over-criminalized and disproportionately punished black men. It should come as no surprise that, in a setting in which protections for the accused are greatly diminished, this shameful legacy persists” (Lara Bazelon, NYT).
However, I would like to say that DeVos’ regulations are not going to fix the systemic anti-blackness and other racism that our country was founded on and has engrained in us. For instance, a study also found that white women are less likely to protect black women from sexual assault. Therefore, I think her support of these changes are misguided, but the points raised important. It is imperative we be more aware of the racial discrimination that our country continued to uphold, and improve support and visibility of all marginalized folks’ issues. End Rape on Campus is an organization with a specific Centering the Margins campaign for just this reason.
You can find more ways to learn about Title IX / sexual violence here in another post I made.