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.

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