Virtual Learning causes increased doubt in the face of Title IX complaints. With American University classes transferring online for the Fall 2020 semester, many students were faced with the difficult decision of returning to Washington D.C. or remaining at home for the semester. Many upperclassmen who had previously secured housing in the DC metro area chose to return to the area for the duration of the semester. I faced a similar dilemma, after signing a 12-month lease prior to the announcement of the school’s online transition.
It’s no secret that AU’s Title IX system has failed numerous students, but for many, it did provide a sense of comfort that there are systems in place to protect survivors. It is important to protect students when interacting in person and online.
American University currently has three open sexual violence cases as of July 31, 2020. In addition to this, multiple Instagram accounts were created to reveal cases of sexual misconduct and racism that had occurred on campus in previous years. Students were horrified at the stories of harassment and discrimination that came to light.
Something I have discovered during my time at American is that I have developed a sense of immunity. Going to a predominately white, liberal college, many students begin to believe that sexual assault and racism are less common on our campus—they're not.
With so many new cases of racism and sexual violence being exposed, now more than ever, it is important that AU students are fully educated on Title IX and have complete access to its resources.
Title IX was originally created to ensue all students regardless of sex were given equal access to education, but guidelines regarding sexual violence were not added until the Obama Administration. It is the bare minimum of what schools should be doing.
So far, in the response to questions on Title IX in the face of remote learning, AU has stated that the only change to the complaint process will be the ability to meet in person to discuss and investigate reports. At first glance this does seem comforting, but there are many gaps in this information AU must fill.
I spoke briefly with an advocate in the Title IX office to answer questions that have been on my mind. In order for something to qualify for Title IX protections it must involve unwelcome conduct that denies a student’s equal access to education. In many ways our access to education has changed, but have these rules changed with it?
As of now, investigative reports will occur online via Zoom or Teams. Students will receive the same protections: supportive measures, no contact orders and escort services, if the perpetrator is found guilty of violating their access to education.
For AU students who may not be taking classes through the University this semester but are still actively enrolled, the same Title IX protections will apply and AU will continue to provide supportive measures to students regardless of their current status as a student. This was particularly reassuring as I know many students have elected to take classes through community colleges for the semester.
In order for racial discrimination to fall under Title IX it must occur within an AU education program or activity. What qualifies as an AU education program or activity has certainly changed—if such discrimination occurs in a Zoom breakout group or chat it would qualify, but anything outside of these parameters would not grant a victim protection.
Still, AU does have several programs targeted towards discrimination and misconduct that occurs outside of a school event. It is frustrating to learn that there are such strict parameters governing what constitutes a Title IX violation, but the creation of other resources for students is extremely important.
At the end of my conversation with a representative from the Title IX office she wished to leave students with an important reminder, “We would like to impress on the student community the importance of reaching out for support, engaging in strong connections with their support systems, and learning the facts about how the university is navigating the Title IX process.”
Title IX is a policy that was created to encompass a small range of discrimination that has now been expanded to encompass a large range. It is no doubt that there is an immediate need for updated policies nationwide to protect students. In the coming years it will be up to the students these programs are meant to protect to advocate for themselves and their communities to be more inclusive and responsive to problematic behavior on campus.
In unprecedented times such as this it is essential for Universities to be completely transparent with their students regarding their protections. I have always taken comfort knowing that Title IX offered me some security if the unthinkable were to occur—now I do not feel that same comfort.
Title IX is an outdated system that should have been updated to offer protections for online learning. I still have many questions regarding my protections as a student, if anything I feel that I have more questions. The way to answer those questions is to keep asking, even if we may not like the answers we receive.
Photos: Her Campus Media Library