In Defense of Title IX

In Defense of Title IX

By Laura J. Cole

Catherine Kaukinen, professor and chair of the criminal justice department, assumed changes to Title IX would follow shortly after President Trump’s election. Like many other Title IX scholars, she’d been following Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ every announcement. And on September 22 — nearly two months after the book Kaukinen co-edited, Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, was released — DeVos’ Title IX announcement came.

Responding to complaints, DeVos rescinded the guidelines put in place under the Obama administration because “many schools have established procedures for resolving allegations that ‘lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.’ ”

That same day, Pegasus interviewed Kaukinen about the history of Title IX, what it does right, what UCF has been doing and what DeVos’s announcement means for college campuses.

Laura J. Cole: For 45 years, Title IX has perhaps been best known as the historic decision to stop discrimination against women in collegiate sports. For those who don’t know, how did it also come to cover sexual assault?

Catherine Kaukinen: Title IX has always included nondiscriminatory treatment of women, which was broadly defined to include athletics, but also admissions, recruitment and, particularly, sexual harassment.

Clearly, the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter [issued by the Office for Civil Rights] codified what it means when we say harassment. Harassment includes sexual violence. It seems really obvious now — why wouldn’t sexual assault, which is the most severe form of sexual harassment, be included? — but to have that codified led to a cascading effect in terms of some of this later legislation now in place. It makes universities accountable to ensure they provide a safe campus and redress sexual violence within a timely manner.

I think Title IX is a game-changer in terms of safeguarding students’ rights during investigations and providing services for victims.

LJC: With or without Title IX, how do you think universities should address complaints of sexual violence? Why not leave that to local police departments?

CK: First and foremost, universities should provide a safe campus.

When it comes to sexual violence on campus, the majority of campuses are not accurately reporting it. A recent study found that more than 89 percent of colleges reported no sexual violence on their campuses, an improbability given other data suggests the reverse is true. Campuses that accurately report sexual violence statistics have large numbers — those are campuses doing something about it. They’re providing a safe place for their students. They’re redressing crime.

The most important reason why we don’t or why we shouldn’t rely on city-level or county-level law enforcement is because the majority of rapes are never reported to the police. Among college-age students, 90 percent are not reporting their assaults. If we aren’t dealing with it on campus, we make this false assumption that local law enforcement’s going to deal with it, but reports rarely make it there. If they do, there’s a small chance it will go to trial and an even smaller probability that there will be a conviction.

When a victim comes forward, campuses have an opportunity to report the assault. If the victim doesn’t want to legally prosecute, the university can still provide assistance, accommodations and a whole host of services to ensure that students stay on the campus and finish their degree.

LJC: You hear a lot about women and sexual assault, but Title IX also covers sexual assault against men. Can you discuss how many men experience this and why it’s not reported?

CK: Yes. There are some estimates that assert roughly 8 percent of college men experience some type of sexual assault, which covers a whole continuum of behaviors. Men are sexually assaulted by both women and other men.

There’s a stigma associated with all of those experiences for young men. Being the victim of sexual assault leads to fear of being disbelieved, accused of weakness or, in the case of heterosexual men, being perceived as gay. And being sexually assaulted by a woman carries the stigma that men should want and be ready for sex at all times.

For men, it’s particularly challenging to report any crime, especially sexual violence. Men are less likely to report all types of violence, as compared to women, because of the belief that they should be able to defend themselves.

LJC: What are some things you think Title IX does right, and where do you think it could be improved?

CK: The 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter ensured that victims of sexual assault are protected, so for victims it is 180 degrees from what it was. Is it perfect? No, for victims there are still problems if universities don’t have policies and procedures put in place. For example, smaller universities often struggle to hire attorneys with Title IX expertise. On a big campus like UCF, we can afford attorneys who specialize in cheating, drugs, alcohol and sexual violence, but this isn’t a federally funded mandate. There’s no federal money available to help universities do this.

I don’t think Betsy DeVos’ main concern is victims. Rather, it is a perceived failure to ensure due process for accused individuals, which is largely part of a backlash to progress made for victims. I agree that we could do better, but doing better does not mean undoing where we are. It means continuing to move forward rather than going back to when we did nothing.

LJC: How is UCF addressing sexual violence on campus?

CK: I’m part of the university’s Title IX task force. It’s a large group run by Dawn Welkie, who’s the Title IX coordinator for the campus. We meet monthly to discuss compliance and crime prevention, address the crimes that the university is aware of as well as conduct and disciplinary functions.

I’m incredibly impressed with UCF’s commitment to Title IX because, again, it’s an unfunded mandate, and the university has committed a sizeable amount of money and staff time to be both compliant and innovative in how it deals with issues related to Title IX. Our new campaign, Let’s Be Clear, lets victims know that the university is committed to reaching out and protecting them. It’s a huge step for a campus to make such a bold statement. We also require all students to complete an online sexual assault awareness module before the end of their first semester.

Recently, UCF committed $1.25 million to start a new five-member faculty cluster to conduct research on violence against women, broadly defined. I’m part of that cluster along with co-lead Jana Jasinski [associate dean of the College of Sciences and a professor of sociology]. The cluster’s goal is to expand our ability to research violence against women in terms of health outcomes — mental health, behavioral health and physical health. It will also incorporate a public health perspective, not just an individual level perspective, by examining how this violence impacts public health.

We are excited that UCF has committed substantial resources to support the faculty and establish UCF as a leader in this area.