Sixty-five participants from institutions across West Texas and the surrounding area attended sessions on Title IX history, procedures and best practices as five new Title IX bills are considered in the Texas Senate.
When Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was signed into law almost 45 years ago, the goal was to give all students, regardless of gender, equal opportunity in any educational program that receives federal funding. Since then, the law has grown to emphasize how institutions deal with sexual assault and harassment of their employees and students.
Recent criticisms of universities and colleges in the U.S. have focused on how Title IX issues are handled, which has prompted program coordinators and administrators to take steps to improve standards, policies and resources that establish clear guidelines when it comes to the law.
Last week, Texas Tech University hosted 65 professionals from institutions across West Texas for the university's three-day 2017 Title IX Drive-In Conference. The conference, the first of its kind for the university, provided a way to share Texas Tech's expertise and knowledge when it comes to the law. Participants chose topics most applicable to them and their institutions.
“The vision for this conference was for Texas Tech to provide high quality professional development to schools that may not be able to afford to send their staff to national conferences,” said Kimberly Simón, director of Risk Intervention & Safety Education (RISE) and newly named Title IX administrator. “We wanted to draw local colleges, universities and regional partners to discuss Title IX and all of the related complex issues in this West Texas environment.”
The conference was hosted by RISE, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office for Student Rights & Resolution, with presentations and discussion panels led by campus departments like Fraternity and Sorority Life; the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement; the Office of Student Conduct, the Office of LQBTQIA; and the Behavioral Intervention Team; and the Texas Tech University SystemOffice of Equal Employment Opportunity and Office of General Counsel.
“We wanted them to get practical tips and strategies they could take back and implement on their campuses right away,” Simón said. “Our plan was to give them an overview of what works on the Texas Tech campus, from the beginning to the end of the process. We also wanted to provide techniques for planning prevention strategies and better educational processes on their campuses.”
Attendees included faculty and staff from Angelo State University, Blinn College, Cisco College, Eastern New Mexico University, South Plains College and more. The conference was divided into three parts – a Prevention Pre-conference, the Title IX Drive In Conference and a post-conference where attendees could complete Raiders Against Violence (RAV) training.
“We designed the conference to be relevant to anyone working with Title IX on their campus: investigators, coordinators and prevention specialists, along with professionals from athletics, housing and student affairs,” Simón said. “We had attendees from each of those groups, which led to very diverse and rich conversations.”
Prevention and topic discussion
Simón said the pre-conference focused on strategies on how to effectively communicate to students about policies and procedures and ways to help them consider related factors like alcohol, effective communication and bystander intervention.
Trey Robb, assistant director of Fraternity & Sorority Life, led a session on the Ladder of Risk program, which provides training to students
in Greek Life on how to host safe chapter events, reduce risk and manage crises. Other
sessions focused on dealing with victims, building peer-education programs, responding
as a bystander and understanding partner violence.
The second day included sessions on rape culture, alcohol and consent, free speech and how to handle Title IX investigations. Staff from Lubbock Christian University presented a session on Title IX procedures at faith-based institutions.
Jody Randall, LGBTQIA administrator, and Matt Gregory, dean of students, led a session on Title IX and transgender student rights that included a general overview of Title IX history and information on resources, including the guidance on inclusivity from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“Title IX is applicable to transgender and gender non-conforming students. When I found out that Texas Tech was hosting a drive-in conference on the law, I knew I wanted to be involved and discuss how it relates to a portion of the students my office supports,” Randall said. “Dr. Gregory and I spoke about the 2016 guidance on how Title IX relates to transgender and gender non-conforming students from the U.S. departments of Education and Justice, the implications of the 2017 withdrawal of that guidance and successful practices to improve the experience of transgender and gender non-conforming students on college campuses.”
Navigating the legal, political and practical climates for transgender students in educational institutions is complex for many administrators and practitioners, Randall said. Texas Tech approaches this noting all students deserve a fair chance to succeed, which includes providing a positive campus climate.
“Even if the federal government seems to have stepped back from fully enforcing those protections, Title IX still affords these students protection,” Randall said. “Expanding the inclusivity for transgender students at Texas Tech does not compromise our commitment to any other students – it strengthens it for all students.”
Randall and Gregory also served on the keynote panel representing the continuum of Title IX services offered at Texas Tech. They were joined by Michelle Boone, Angelo State University Title IX coordinator; Victor Mellinger, Texas Tech University System deputy general counsel; and Simón. The discussion focused on what has been most beneficial to the development of programs and procedures at Texas Tech.
“We thought about what our standout programs are and what's most useful and frequently utilized in our office,” Simón said. “It was important to us that we provide tangible content as well – things that participants could take back to their campus and implement.”
The panel was a representation of one of the things Texas Tech Title IX team members are most proud of – the cohesion of that team.
“Our offices, which include Student Rights & Resolution, Dean of Students, RISE and Student Conduct work well together to coordinate the investigation, adjudication and support service processes,” Simón said. “We've also been fortunate to receive significant support from our administration to provide best practice standards instead of meeting minimum compliance guidelines.”
Simón said examples of this can be found by reviewing policies and procedures already in place at Texas Tech and Title IX-related bills currently being considered in the Texas Legislature.
Senate Bills 966-970 were proposed by Sen. Kirk Watson in February. The bills amend laws already in place and propose new legislation that focuses on sexual assault and Title IX policies regarding how investigations are conducted.
SB 966 would protect students from criminal charges related to underage drinking if they are reporting sexual assault. SB 969 requires institutions provide amnesty to students who are in violation of the student code of conduct if they are reporting allegations of sexual assault. SB 967 proposes changes to the current law regarding sexual assault to include any substance that can impair a person's ability to give consent, instead of listing specific and common “date-rape drugs.”
SB 968 requires institutions to provide an electronic and anonymous way for students and employees to report allegations, while SB 970 focuses on setting specific standards for affirmative consent. The bill contends it is not consent if a person remains silent or says “no” – instead they must clearly demonstrate their consent.
“Texas Tech is already in compliance with all of the proposed changes but one,” Simón said. “We lack ‘affirmative consent' in our code of conduct, though our actual definition of consent describes this standard without using those words.”
The post-conference Raiders Against Violence training is a program offered twice per year on campus to Texas Tech faculty and staff. The training provides resources and information on how to respond to student concerns and reports of violence, sexual assault and trauma.
“This is an in-depth workshop that dives into sexual assault, partner violence, stalking and harassment, and how to walk a student through that process,” Simón said. “We give them a look at how to respond to student disclosures and what resources are on campus.”
Faculty and staff who complete the training receive a certificate of completion and a door sign signifying their training. They also are listed on the RISE directory of “Raiders Against Violence.”
“For our campus, it is a way to educate our partners about the services, policies and procedures already in place,” Simón said.
She said she hopes the participants left the conference with information about what works at Texas Tech and ideas about the processes and best practices they can incorporate into their respective models. The goal is to create a collaborative effort to more efficiently and effectively deal with Title IX issues as they arise.
“We hope to create an annual event that other schools not only want to attend in coming years,” Simón said, “but also one where they will contribute to the knowledge base by presenting and hosting sessions.”