On Topic: WH and ED Guidance on Sexual Assaults and Title IX Compliance

I pay $35/year for the coobysnacks.com domain, so it behooves me to put this site to better use.

To be fair, I used to opine about higher ed more frequently when I was a grad student (needed to offload extraneous material from my dissertation), and much of the stuff I worked on at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) wasn’t for public consumption. Now that I’m back on the outside… Well, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Today’s topic: The recent report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and updated guidance from ED on compliance with Title IX. Both the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed covered the story. The New York Times had a nice write-up, too. ED’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) also just today released the list of 55 institutions with open Title IX sexual violence investigations.

Side note #1: My undergrad alma mater is on OCR’s list. Side note #2: A student was sexually assaulted in my building my first year as an RA there. See here and here for coverage. To say that the incident shaped my views on what it means to be a higher ed administrator would be an understatement. I’m a firm believer that institutions should do everything they can to ensure that students are reasonably informed, equipped, and protected. (Is there such a thing as reasonable in loco parentis? Is that an oxymoron?)

From a policy perspective, two things strike me as fascinating:

1. That this resulted from student advocacy efforts. Unlike the well-worn sources of federal higher ed policy – an inside baseball push from leadership in the executive or legislative branches or the usual cadre of lobbyists – this seems to be the direct result of students demanding action from their government officials.

Which begs the question: Why did these students find it necessary to take it all the way to the top? Did working directly with their institutions not result in their desired outcomes?

The higher ed administrator in me is curious about how prepared and/or able institutions are to deliver on those desired outcomes. He’s also curious what issue might come next for which students demand a federal intervention – wisely or unwisely.

2. The public reaction. Seriously. I know that the first rule of the Interwebz is NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!1!!!1!

But in this case – particularly in the Chronicle’s and Inside Higher Ed’s coverage – comments are much, much more interesting since they’re presumably coming from higher ed folk. I won’t spoil them for you, but bring popcorn.

Clearly, this topic is fraught with a gajillion confounding issues. I, for one, am glad we’re having these conversations. It’s the only way we can address the real challenges with ensuring student safety on our campuses. And it’s the only way we can begin figuring out how to improve Title IX implementation and enforcement without putting undue burden on institutions.

American higher ed has always been interesting to me, Great Butter Rebellion and all. It’ll be fascinating to see how active students will be in the policymaking process from here on in. Could this be one blip, or should higher ed be prepared for a new, savvier player at the table?


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