Schecter: We must use this moment to set a new standard for the Title IX process on campus, across the country
February 22, 2017
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The past weeks have been trying for our community after the University alerted students earlier this month that it received anonymous reports alleging multiple sexual assaults and druggings at two fraternities. Many of us are angry, upset, even baffled by the prevalence of sexual assault on our campus. We should channel these emotions and use their momentum to make long-lasting institutional change to reporting processes, not only at Northwestern but nationally as well.
Having spent the past year analyzing and researching national sexual assault policies alongside Laura Beth Nielsen, a professor of sociology and legal studies, I have learned that universities across the nation do not hold themselves to a high enough standard when crafting their Title IX policies. College students across the country often lack adequate information about Title IX, as university offices do not always disclose how to properly and efficiently report instances of sexual misconduct. Poor communication by the administration can lead to months of uncertainty as to where an investigation stands. As the president of a Panhellenic sorority at NU, I surround myself with individuals who are disproportionately affected by sexual assault. Further institutional change must occur if we are to create a campus that effectively supports survivors, inside and outside of the Greek system. The Title IX office should focus its efforts on reducing the stigma of reporting in the wake of these allegations and the activism responding to them.
Northwestern’s Title IX reporting process creates a space for individuals to feel safe and, most importantly, validated. I echo the sentiments of my peers that we must place our trust in the system of anonymous reporting. Beyond anonymous reporting, NU’s Title IX office also offers services that aim to accommodate and protect all students — regardless of whether they are a survivor of sexual assault or not. NU took a strong stance on relations between professors and undergraduate students in 2014 by prohibiting all relationships — consensual or otherwise — between those in positions of unequal power, a step that many other universities have yet to take.
However, there is still room for improvement in our reporting process. We must push for quicker case processing, perhaps by demanding that investigations do not extend beyond the outlined 60-day limit, recognizing that this is often a traumatic time for survivors. Moreover, although the Sexual Assault Prevention Office has recently made sexual assault statistics available, it found that in the 2015-16 academic year, 32 percent of students who made a sexual misconduct report elected not to proceed with informal or formal resolution. The University should address directly why this may be the case, whether due to stigma or fear of the investigative process. The Sexual Assault Prevention office should also consider distributing its results more widely to remind survivors they are not alone and that justice can be achieved through the reporting process.
We as NU students also have an incredible platform to advocate for change at other academic institutions. Title IX offices across the country are responsible for the judicial processes for sexual assault proceedings, yet these processes vary greatly from campus to campus. Stanford University recently instituted a three-person unanimous verdict to rule on cases that come to the Title IX office, making the bar higher for finding the accused guilty and making it harder to convict assault cases. In addition, although Stanford pays to provide legal counsel to students going through the Title IX process, lawyers are only paid for nine hours of counsel to students, and one lawyer was recently fired by the university after she spoke out against this inefficiency.
Other institutions lack policies entirely: North Central College does not outline a process for sexual assault survivors on their campus, and the U.S. Department of Education granted Louisiana College a religious exemption, meaning it is no longer required to have a working sexual assault policy. Despite the wide variance in policies across the country, and the NU policy’s relative strengths in comparison, we still have much to improve.
We need to use our voices and our strength in numbers to make change. I encourage everyone at NU to do their part to understand, criticize and push to improve how Title IX is implemented on our campus and beyond. We should aim to serve as an example and a standard for other institutions. This moment is an opportunity to begin to change our culture surrounding the response to sexual misconduct. As a community, we have the power to do something bigger than ourselves –– complicity is simply not an option.
Sarah Schecter is a SESP junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.