Ask the Experts
Title IX and Student Activism
How can student voices be most impactful in effectuating meaningful change related to sexual assault on campus– at a personal, university and/or federal level?
Tommy Jung, Political Science: Data Analytics | Business & Computational Social Science, University of San Diego; Member of UC’s Title IX Student Advisory Board
Much of the national discussion on Title IX and sexual violence has revolved around the investigative process; there has been less emphasis on bridging the existing gap between the written policy and students. There are myths and questions about the policy that need to be clarified and answered. Are faculty members considered confidential resources? Is there always an investigation when someone reports an incident? And do students need to report an incident to receive resources from the university? These are just a few of the questions that I’ve heard students ask at UC San Diego. And with proposed changes to Title IX on the horizon, I have no doubt that the list of questions will continue to grow.
The only way that we can ensure that our policies and programs are not only up-to-date but accessible and responsive to community needs is if students have an active role in shaping it. And the best way for students to have an active role in shaping policy is if they are invited to the decision-making space as stakeholders. There are many opportunities to include student voices when developing Title IX policies and programs: establishing a student advisory board, fostering active relationships with student leaders, and holding feedback forums. It is my hope that more universities recognize the importance of and create more spaces for student input.
When it comes to state/federal level advocacy, I would love to see more coalition-building between students and administrators. There is a higher bar of entry for participating in the legislative process; students might not have the same access to the institutional knowledge, historical background, and networks that administrators have. I see a lot of opportunities for students and administrators to share resources and information to push for change as a united front.
Danésha Nichols, Director, Harassment & Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program, UC Davis
Student voices play a vital role in shaping and evolving the culture and climate of a campus. It is no secret that students influence students; but it is also true that students influence administration. Student voices help clue in administration to the needs and wishes of students and that feedback is essential. In terms of effectuating meaningful change related to sexual assault on campus, students can be most impactful by “illuminating the way.”
So many survivors of sexual assault on campus suffer in silence because they are not aware of resources or avenues available to address concerns. This can also keep respondents from being held accountable for their actions. Students who are wanting to use their voice can help by becoming knowledgeable about their campus resources and processes available to survivors so they can share what they’ve learned with other students. A great way to do this is by getting to know the people on their campuses that work in this field and by taking time to understand not only the options available to address sexual assault on campus, but also the limitations that might exist. Sharing this information with other students or “illuminating the way” helps to create an informed and empowered student body. An informed and empowered student body can have a transformative impact on a campus culture and is a great step toward eradicating sexual assault on campus.
Suzanne Taylor, Systemwide Title IX Director, University of California
Student voices are powerful. A grassroots student-led movement to shine a light on sexual violence on college campuses led to profound change at the federal, university and personal level a few years back. Across the nation, students amplified the issue by publicly telling their stories; organizing protests; engaging campus, state and federal officials; filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR); and suing their schools. The federal government took notice, leading OCR to issue seminal guidance on how schools should respond to sexual violence and to ramp up Title IX enforcement. Universities in turn improved policies, developed prevention education, increased investigative and advocacy resources, and elevated campus Title IX officers. Students came to better understand consent and what constitutes misconduct, and made inroads to destigmatize sexual violence.
Students can help the nation build on this progress. At the federal level, OCR will soon publish proposed amendments to the controversial Title IX regulations issued under the Trump administration, which dictate how schools respond to sexual harassment. Students can make their views on the amendments count by submitting written comments during the public review period, as thousands did when the regulations were originally published in 2018. Within their universities, students can engage their administrations. At UC, leaders from the highest levels view sexual harassment prevention, detection and response efforts as critical, and welcome students’ perspectives. Title IX professionals and their campus partners care deeply about students and their role in fostering healthy campus cultures, and activists should recognize them as allies. Students—and all of us—can generate meaningful change at the personal level by challenging harmful stereotypes through thoughtful dialogue, intervening in problematic behavior when safe to do so, and supporting friends who disclose painful experiences. Through the power of student voices and our shared commitment, we move ever closer to campus communities where all can learn and grow without fear of sexual violence.