As part of my summer internship with Emory University‘s Respect Program, I recently attended an ATIXA training on how to investigate sexual harassment/assault claims as mandated by Title IX. It was an interesting training, but (at least for me) it raised more questions than it answered.
First, some background: Title IX, the federal law prohibiting educational discrimination on the basis of sex for programs that receive federal funding, turned 40 this year. For most of its existence, it has been used to justify (among other things) gender* parity for things like school sports–and it is for this that the law is best known.
However, in 2011 the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published what is known as the Dear Colleague Letter, or DCL. DCLs are published fairly regularly on a variety of topics, but this particular letter has become the DCL, and that’s because it mandated a major overhaul in how federally-funded schools (k-12 institutions and any university that receives federal assistance, which is most of them) handle sexual assault and harassment.
Because these issues are gendered violence–women are much more likely to be the victims, and the violation is sexual in nature–the OCR ruled that failing to address sexual assault/harassment at an institutional level is a violation of Title IX. It leads to a hostile educational environment based on sex.