The past decade of Title IX regulatory churn has yielded a number of positive results for students, and administrations, but it has also left a wake of queasiness and dread for administrators, advocates, and students. In too many cases this churn has overshadowed markers of progress and undermined public confidence. If we want students to benefit from their civil rights protections and engage systems of accountability, we need to celebrate the achievements of Title IX while also striving to improve how the law is interpreted, enacted, and enforced.
Here are some things colleges can do to reframe their thinking and continue to move forward in a positive direction.
1. Celebrate institutional successes and progress. Don’t wait to talk about Title IX until there is a policy change to communicate or a high-profile incident to address. Promote positive, concrete actions the institution is already doing—and the people who are doing the work. Institutions could host podcasts or small group conversations with the Title IX Coordinator. The student health center could promote the services it delivers to students that help it ensure equitable access to health care; admissions officers could discuss their efforts to ensure gender equity in the student recruitment and enrollment process. These kinds of institution-wide efforts would yield positive stories, and broaden the understanding of Title IX to apply to all areas of education, not just responding to sexual and gender-based violence.
2. Continue to work to make all areas of this law meaningful for students and engage them in the process. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence should be meaningfully and appropriately included in institutional efforts to live into the spirit and letter of Title IX, but so also should pregnant and parenting students, peer health advocates, student athletes, and other student leaders who can help bring a holistic perspective on the institution’s strengths and opportunities when it comes to Title IX. Often students feel they’re at the mercy of this legislation rather than seeing it as a powerful tool.
Welcome to middle age, Title IX—so glad to be here with you. We’re older, we creak a bit in the joints, and the gray streaks show up in sunlight. We’re wiser, we’re more powerful, we’ve been shaped by the tragedies and triumphs of the students in our lives. We’re undaunted by the work left to do in the next 50.
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