Title IX Compliance at Women’s MSIs: Sharing Best Practices

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Shawna Patterson

Title IX compliance has become the catch phrase of the year in higher education, as institutions scramble to make certain their procedures and services align with legislation focused on eradicating violence against women. Upholding this legislation is particularly salient for Minority Serving Institutions, as the ramifications involved in noncompliance can include lawsuits, fines, and discontinued access to federal dollars.

For those who don’t know, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in programs or functions funded by the federal government. Though signed into law in 1972, the inability of some 100 college and universities to uphold Title IX legislation has spurred consternation at a fever pitch. As it relates to sexual assault, harassment, and relationship violence, women of color are less likely to report incidents because they are often confronted with victim-blaming and disbelief among majority populations. On the heels of these allegations, colleges and universities throughout the U.S. are shoring up their infrastructures, policies, and procedures in order to ensure they are accommodating Title IX requirements to the letter.

However, making considerations for sex-based discrimination is nothing new to women’s colleges. In fact, as two of the only MSIs serving all-women’s populations, Spelman College and Bennett College for Women have demonstrated what it means to create environments that are sensitive to the needs of rape, assault, and harassment survivors. These institutions are unique, as they were specifically founded to serve women of color; their support services are tailored to meet the needs of a diverse group of women students.

Below are some of their best practices that other institutions might replicate to strengthen their own Title IX compliance and better support women on their campuses.

Spelman College

Spelman College has created a comprehensive webpage dedicated to defining Title IX legislation, in addition to outlining University policies and resources. Individuals within the campus community are able to file a report online, and there is a page that outlines clear steps that both survivors and their friends could follow in addressing sexual assault and harassment. At Spelman, survivors of sexual assault and harassment have access to a 24-hour confidential assault hotline established by the University as well as a 24-hour confidential line run by Gradys Hospital Rape Crisis Center. Students are also encouraged to go to the Women’s Health Clinic in Student Health Services (or Piedmont Hospital), the Dean of Chapel, Counseling & Disability Services, Public Safety, and/or file a report with the Title IX Coordinator. Spelman has also forged coalitions with several community organizations, including the Day League, Piedmont Rape Crisis Center, Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), and Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS).

Spelman has developed a host of initiatives centered on the prevention of violence against women. Programs include Fight Back Self Defense, Bystander Intervention Workshops, movies with small group discussions, and the Sexual Assault Response Team, which involves key University officials charged with developing protocols and standard operating procedures surrounding issues of sexual assault and relationship violence. Spelman also requires first-year students to complete online training modules prior to the start of classes. Specifically, Helping Advocates for Violence Ending Now (HAVEN) is an online educational tool that assists students in identifying and defining different forms of abuse and sexual violence such as harassment, stalking, and physical/verbal assault. Additionally, Spelman has formed a coalition with local agencies in the Atlanta metropolitan area to support the Sex Trafficking and Prevention Series, an intervention program geared towards combatting sex trafficking, bringing awareness to the broader community, and providing survivors with a safe space.

Bennett College for Women

Bennett presents students with a comprehensive listing of policies and procedures, which affords instructions to victims and allies on how to navigate survival. University referrals include the Counseling Center, Public Safety, Student Health Center, the Office of Human Resources, and the Title IX Coordinator, but also extend to North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Cone Health, and Family Services of The Piedmont, Incorporated. Additionally, Bennett provides survivors with residential, academic, and transportation accommodations to ensure they feel supported and safe.

In an effort to promote awareness and prevention, students, faculty, and staff have access to a series of educational initiatives at Bennett College. For instance, first-year students undergo training during student orientation where they learn to define harm and consent. Students also acquire information on risk reduction as well as safe and productive ways to respond to these incidents. Other programs include Bystander Training, Housing and Residence Life Workshops, the Safe Spring Break Pledge Drive, the Alcohol, Drug, and Sexual Assault Prevention Annual Fair, and a segment during New Employee Orientation.

While these services may be available on other campuses, they stand apart because both colleges reflect the social identities of women of color. Replicating the communities that exist at Spelman and Bennett may prove challenging because they are devoted to supporting the academic, social, and professional needs of minority women. Still, observing how their campus cultures supplement Title IX support services could provide other colleges and universities with a schema on how best to support students of color who are survivors of assault and harassment.

Dr. Shawna Patterson has over 10 years of experience in higher education as a practitioner.  She currently serves as the House Dean of Fisher Hassenfeld College House at the University of Pennsylvania.

When Being a Visiting Scholar Doesn’t Feel Like You’re Visiting: 10 Things I Learned on My Sabbatical


Levon T. Esters

This past semester I had the opportunity to spend my sabbatical leave from Purdue University at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI). Having never had a sabbatical, I had no idea what was in store for me, especially considering I was going to be working with world-renowned higher education scholar, Dr. Marybeth Gasman. Soon after I arrived, Marybeth and I sat down and reviewed my sabbatical goals and came up with strategies that would help me achieve them so that I could fully maximize my time at the Center. During our initial and subsequent conversations, Marybeth shared several things about the workplace culture at the Center and what contributes most to her staff being productive. As I reflect on my time at the Center, I’ve realized that my official title was that of “visiting scholar” but at no point during my time at the Center did I feel like I was a visitor. Though I could spend a great deal of time sharing numerous examples of what I learned and how each of the Center staff impacted me, I think it would be best if I shared the ten most important things I learned from my sabbatical experience.

  1. Bring Your Whole Self to Work

One of the first things I learned was the importance of bringing your “whole self” to work each and every day. This meant that each person could be who they are and feel comfortable knowing that the personal narratives and diversity they bring to the table would be respected. This was especially important considering the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the Center staff. A more subtle yet equally important aspect of the workplace culture was that we referred to each other by first names. At no point did Center staff or students refer to me as “Dr.” or “Professor.” This subtle expectation was very empowering, especially for students, and contributed to a more equitable organizational culture. Another key element that I appreciated was the “work hard, play hard” mentality of the Center staff. Being able to work with individuals who valued what it meant to put forth their best effort toward the completion of a project but also work equally hard at enjoying themselves after a long day or week was refreshing and contributed to a pleasant workplace environment.

  1. Enhanced Skills as a Researcher

My sabbatical experience enabled me to become a better researcher. In particular, I was able to further develop my skills as a researcher by co-authoring journal manuscripts and book chapters; leading and contributing to the development of Center research briefs; participating in seminars and workshops on statistical software programs such as Stata; and developing qualitative research skills (e.g., interviewing, coding).

  1. Enhanced Skills in Teaching and Learning

I was able to enhance my skills as a teacher by observing Marybeth teach her History in Higher Education course. Recognized as one of Penn’s most outstanding teachers, Marybeth engages students using a variety of instructional approaches that are student-centered and being able to observe her was a unique learning experience. However, what I gained most from my observations was the manner in which Marybeth challenged students, both in terms of causing them to think more deeply about issues impacting higher education as well as the personal biases students held related to issues of power and privilege.

  1. Directing a Center

My sabbatical experience provided the opportunity to gain insight into how to direct a research center. I was able to learn first-hand that serving as a director does not require one to be a micromanager; rather, an effective directorship requires collaboration and empowering others. Marybeth was excellent at hiring exceptional and highly competent staff and then letting them do their jobs. This enabled her to be even more productive because less of her time was spent managing. I also observed how Marybeth cultivated a culture that was highly supportive, where people held each other accountable and the culture of “we” was the dominant and guiding organizational philosophy.

  1. Becoming a Better Mentor to Graduate Students

As one who is firmly committed to mentoring graduate students, I was able to glean from my observations of Marybeth how to become an even better graduate mentor. In particular, I learned that challenging students is a necessity and will serve them well as they prepare for the workforce. Marybeth was masterful at holding students accountable, coaching them for higher-level experiences, building their confidence and intellectual capacity, understanding their growth potential, and providing opportunities for professional growth and development.

  1. Mentoring Undergraduate Students

Though my prior experience mentoring undergraduate students has been positive and contributed to my growth as a faculty member, I was still able to gain insights into how I could be an even more effective mentor to this population of students. For example, I was able to learn the art and craft of using mentoring practices that were developmentally appropriate for use with undergraduate students. More importantly, I learned much from my interactions with students who were from culturally diverse backgrounds that prior to my sabbatical, I had not had the chance to mentor such as those from the Latino/a, Hmong and Filipino community. Taken together, these interactions provide me with culturally rich mentor experiences that will serve me well as a faculty member.

  1. Use of Social Media

The ability to use social media effectively is no longer an option and must be embraced across all levels of the higher education landscape. Prior to my sabbatical, I used social media infrequently and strictly for personal use. However, working at the Center has enabled me to better understand the need, importance, and effectiveness of social media and how it can be used to communicate my research, highlight the work and accomplishments of my graduate students, and disseminate the outcomes and products of my grant projects. Through the collective guidance of the Center staff, I am more confident in my use of social media and better understand how it can help contribute to the development of my professional identify.

  1. Effective and Efficient Use of Time Management

Working collaboratively on projects is commonplace at the Center and occurred at a much higher rate than what I was used to at my home institution. However, the collaborative nature that was present at the Center allowed me to learn from individuals who increased their productivity through effective and efficient time management practices. Working on projects made up of different groups of individuals has contributed greatly to enhancing my capacity for managing multiple tasks while at the same time increasing my productivity.

  1. Grant Proposal and Concept Paper Development

My sabbatical experience also afforded the opportunity to learn from Center staff on how to develop large multi-million dollar grant proposals. Many of the grant proposals I developed during my career were federally funded grant proposals. Conversely, many of the proposals that supported Center projects were from foundations and often required that a concept paper be developed. Because foundation grants are often by invitation only, the conceptualization process of the proposal idea was in many ways different than what I was accustomed to for my work. Thus, being able to attend ‘brainstorming’ sessions with Center leadership team was not only a tremendous learning experience but also inspired me to re-think some of my previously held beliefs on how I could fund my research and programmatic efforts.

  1. Increased Knowledge and Understanding of Issues Affecting of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)

One of the primary goals of my sabbatical experience was to increase my knowledge and understanding of MSIs. Without question, this goal has been realized and I will continue to study, work, and advocate on behalf of these institutions. Most importantly, through the mentorship provided by Marybeth and her staff, I have been able increase my knowledge related to issues of educational access and equity, social justice and activism, and women and students of color.

For the better part of six months I engaged with individuals who were thoughtful, passionate, and committed to uplifting MSIs. Moreover, I made it a priority to learn from everyone—staff, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students. Understandably, most individuals would feel dejected for having to leave behind colleagues who are both wonderful and inspiring. However, because I was never made to feel like a visitor, my time at the Center will forever be remembered as a second academic home.


I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to Marybeth Gasman for helping provide me with an exceptional sabbatical experience. A special thank you also goes to the amazing Center staff and students who contributed to my growth and development as a scholar, colleague and friend —Paola ‘Lola’ Esmieu, Andres Castro Samayoa, Alice Ginsberg, William ‘Casey’ Boland, Chris Jimenez, Temitope ‘Tope’ Ligali, Melanie Wolf, Jennifer Yang, Briana O’Neal, Marietess Masult, DeShaun Bennet, Sephanie Mayo, Amanda Washington and Carolyn Karolczyk.

Levon T. Esters is an associate professor of youth development at Purdue University and a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Levon’s research focuses on the STEM career development of underrepresented minorities (URMs), mentoring of females and URM graduate students in STEM, and the role of historically Black land-grant institutions in fostering the STEM success of females and URMs.

Guarantee Games Seem To Be Lacking In Holiday Spirit


Karen Gross

I get the concept of guarantee games for HBCUs and some other DI and DII colleges and universities that are financially constrained. The economic woes of some colleges are a situation likely to persist. I also get that wealthier colleges and universities want to play football teams in their non-conference schedule where they are virtually guaranteed a win. I also appreciate that guarantee games are not limited to football and extend other sports like basketball. But, because football ups the stakes in terms of dollars, disparate competition levels and potential devastating injuries, I think games in that sport deserve more attention.

There are notable benefits to these games for both sides. For HBCUs and others, playing high profile teams with television exposure has benefits: there is improved name recognition of the participating institution; there is the excitement of playing against the best and challenging players to see steep competition; there is the “honor” of being in the “big time.” There is also an opportunity for the students to travel to new places, meet new people and have new experiences. There is also the chance to reconnect with high school player friends from one’s own or neighboring schools.

The fiscal upsides are real also. For many cash poor colleges and universities, payment for playing can support a goodly portion of the annual athletic budget. Note the dollars do not just support the team that is playing; it supports all athletics. Yes, as Professor Oliver McGee at Howard University (and a former ACE Fellow) points out, cash is king for HBCUs. Lopsided scores are expected, like final scores are 61 to 0 or something similar. To be sure, miracles can and do happen. While perhaps embarrassing for some players, the benefits of high profile playing (and the $) and the “fun” of it apparently outweigh the rout.

Could we ask who should be making these decisions? Coaches, ADs, Presidents or players?

Despite the identified “positives,” the payment to these smaller, less successful teams leaves me troubled on several fronts. And I know that my position is unpopular. ADs spend time searching for these games and negotiating the best deals. But, before judging my conclusions, at least consider my arguments first.

First, I am bothered by pre-season planning that is designed to produce only wins. I understand why this happens – for rankings, records, practice, playoffs and bowl games options. But, there is something to be said for non-conference games that are the opposite of “gimmes” – out of conference games that challenge and test a team’s meddle. In a culture of winning and given how the sports’ post-season selections are made, winning (even when bought) has benefits. In fact, some institutions refuse to play certain out-of–conference teams pre-season, lest they lose and suffer the accompanying consequences, including humiliation. This even happens in Division III.

Second, I am worried about injuries, and they have happened. Look at the situation now facing Devon Gales from Southern University who was paralyzed in a game against the University of Georgia (an institution that has stepped up to help defray the player’s medical costs and honor him). If the information is correct, Southern received $650,000 for playing that game. Howard University apparently had a half a dozen players injured in their first two games of 2015. Not good by any measure, although injuries are a part of football and it has been argued that the “damage” to players in no worse than usual for the less competitive team. For the record, similar injury issues are diminished in basketball for instance.

Third, I understand playing to win but some of the scores are so ridiculous, you wonder why more of the games were not shortened. I understand that the dominant team brings in its third and fourth string players onto the field; perhaps that is their only chance to play on national TV all season too. That’s a plus. I appreciate the humiliation of “gimme points” as in allowing a field goal or touchdown; it feels like charity. But, good sportspersonship would suggest not putting the pedal to the metal against a totally under-matched opponent. Seems like the phrase others use makes sense: pay to slay.

Fourth, it is my sense that there is something morally offensive in all this although it is hard to capture in words. It feels like sending lambs to the slaughter or feeding meat to captive lions. It gives me the sense that black lives matter less, or at least some student lives. However, many minority players are participating on both teams so my argument does not hold too much water. Putting a stop to these games raises the issue of libertarian paternalism/maternalism. Why should we protect students if they and their institutions have no desire to stop the guarantee games?

Fifth and finally, motivated by the holiday season, we are in the spirit of giving. But, in a strange way, the “gift” of pay-to-play dollars to HBCUs and other institution seems less like a gift and more like a taking. It is a taking of physical well-being, a taking of dignity on some level (whether or not acknowledged) and a taking advantage of those institutions/players less well-heeled and less skilled in exchange for a win — as in winner takes all in America.

Guarantee dollars are, for me, the gift that keeps on taking. It reminds me of someone forced by a Raja to take an exotic white elephant as a gift. The problem with the gift: the costs of keeping and feeding the elephant. Fiscally struggling colleges must take the gift, but they pay for it in other ways. And, yes, I appreciate that guarantee games are not the only issue or challenge facing HBCUs and other colleges/universities.

Ask yourself this: if you had a kid who was playing football for one of the dollar receiving schools, would you be happy with your son playing in a guarantee game? Would you be cheering on the sideline and feeling proud as opposed to exploited? Would this be the message you want your son to receive about how people are treated by bigger, wealthier, often white institutions?

If you can answer “yes,” far be it for me to change the outcome. But I wonder how many parents and guardians would seriously think “yes” is the best and only answer. There must be other options – options where giving is truly giving.

The saddest part for me is that this is one situation where I can see the problem but don’t have a suitable alternative to what we are now doing. There must be some quality answers out there. In the spirit of giving, would you share those?

This post originally appeared on College AD.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.