Though Knox is seeing positive changes regarding its status as a Title IX school, there is still a lot to be addressed, according to the Sexual Assault Resource Reform Coalition, or SARRC.
One of Knox’s first steps in updating to Title IX guidelines was appointing Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder as the school’s Title IX coordinator in November. The position oversees equity in education and upholds Title IX’s commitment to gender equality.
This is reflective of a growing development across the nation to update schools to Title IX laws. On Jan. 22, the Obama Administration established a task force to protect students from sexual assault. Studies show that one in five women is a survivor of completed or attempted sexual assault in college, the White House released in a statement. This served as an impetus on colleges throughout the nation to reevaluate Title IX laws and make changes.
The need for change on Knox’s campus, however, is no new idea. SARRC – comprised of seniors Gabrielle Rajerison and Kayla Kennedy, juniors Hadley Gephart and Devin Hanley and sophomore Allie Fry – formed last winter and has been meeting weekly since.
“It seems like it’s all happening right now, because with the Title IX coordinator and the Task Force it seems like this is the first time students are hearing about this, but it has been ongoing,” Gephart said.
The coalition has addressed several issues on campus, including a lack of resources available to students, inadequate consent education and problems with the current grievance procedure and counseling services, according to literature distributed by the coalition at the most recent Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response meeting.
“It’s a structural failing, and I think it’s safe to say that,” Kennedy said. “This wasn’t being treated as the priority that it is, and hopefully that’s changing as a safety concern.”
The issues SARRC is addressing, though, precede the members of the coalition. In 2008, many students did independent studies reviewing the Grievance Panel and compiled lists of students’ needs, according to Fry. Gephart is currently working on a timeline of sexual assault prevention on campus.
“This isn’t new, and this is something we need to emphasize,” Fry said. “This is ongoing, and if we want this to result in anything, we need to recognize that this isn’t just a little spark that’s happening and suddenly everyone cares. It’s time that this is sustained.”
According to Schroeder, sustained change is underway and one of the first issues being addressed is policy at an administrative level.
Thus far, several Knox faculty members have completed online training in sexual assault prevention, and the school has implemented a task force for sexual assault prevention and response, laying groundwork for many changes to come, according to Schroeder.
Under Title IX laws, sexual misconduct is handled differently.
“You can’t use mediation. You can’t just get them in a room and have them talk it out under Title IX. So we’ve been focused on getting these structures in place and that the Grievance Panel is properly educated,” Schroeder said.
Title IX also requires mandatory reporting by a faculty or staff who knows or reasonably should know of any allegations regarding sexual misconduct or inequity on campus.
“In the old days, we as faculty or staff might have heard from the student, ‘I don’t want to do anything,’ and the faculty would say, ‘Come talk to me in a week and see if you still feel that way,’” Schroeder said.
The reason for mandatory reporting, she says, is a good one.
“The institution has an obligation to the entire community to keep the place safe, so that’s why it’s built into the Title IX regulations,” Schroeder said.
Another big issue at the forefront of Title IX conversation currently is First Year Orientation.
According to Schroeder, Sex Signals, the sexual assault prevention event, can be flippant and not necessarily deal with sexual assault prevention in the right way.
Similarly, transfer students are not necessarily provided the same information that incoming freshmen are exposed to.
“Even though [transfer students] might have gotten an orientation at their other school and know what sexual assault is and what consent is, they don’t know what their resources are here, so there’s a lot of gaps as far as a disconnect between administrative work and actual student population,” Fry said.
The group is looking at several changes in the next year, including bringing activist Jackson Katz and other speakers to campus and bringing back Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention. R.A. training and alternatives to the Sex Signals program are also on the table. They will also hopefully address programming for students who may not have a residential advisor.
“If you have Residential Life programming it can only go so far when you have a certain population of students who live off-campus, so it’s sort of a challenge to communicate that information to the entire student body whether [or not] they have an R.A.,” Hanley said.
SARRC also expressed a concern about faculty and staff involvement in Title IX laws, especially due to an ever-changing student population.
“There’s been a push from students for years and years … While we want students to be at the forefront of this issue, caring about this, educating each other, we are also looking for institutional support on that so that these things can be sustained,” Fry said.
Ultimately, they said, Knox is in need of support from faculty and staff - an issue that Knox appears to be addressing.
“There just needs to be institutional support for programming all throughout the year, and that’s the kind of thing that can change while the student body is changing,” Gephart said.
Schroeder echoed this sentiment, and emphasized the importance of support from all areas of campus.
“We’re ramping up to make sure things are covered and we have a team on that overseeing this, but at the same time, it’s important to bring students into this … I’m really gratified to see the kind of dedication President Amott is showing to it. We’re working well,” Schroeder said.
Knox is striving to become a “safer and more respectful place, a campus free of sexual violence of all types,” President Teresa Amott stated in a campus-wide email.
Major changes are underway, but educating and reforming a campus will be no small task.
“There’s been progress on campus just in that people on campus are more aware that we even have a Title IX coordinator… ,” Hanley said. “There’s a misconception that now that we have a coordinator our work is done, that it’s no longer a problem, but it’s definitely been within SARRC’s view that the work doesn’t stop there and as a smaller group pushing to ensure the work that’s still ahead of us gets done.”
Editor’s note: Gabrielle Rajerison is a copy editor for TKS.