The Daily Explains: Northwestern’s Title IX policies


Jonah Elkowitz/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern does not have a separate Title IX office, but rather four Title IX coordinators who work within the Office of Equity.

Russell Leung and Maia Pandey

Passed in 1972, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination at any U.S. educational institution that receives federal financial assistance, including Northwestern. In accordance with this statute, the University employs a suite of policies and staffers to tackle issues of sex discrimination, equity in athletics and sexual violence.

While NU does not have a formal Title IX office, it does staff a Title IX coordinator and three deputy coordinators — one of whom focuses on athletics compliance issues. The coordinators are part of the Office of Equity and oversee sex discrimination complaints across the University. 

Along with tracking sexual misconduct incidents and responding to Title IX inquiries, NU’s coordinators publicize the University’s policies and organize trainings to prevent sexual harassment and violence. 

Janna Blais, deputy coordinator of athletics compliance issues, is a point of contact for any Title IX issues within the Athletics Department. Blais organizes training on Title IX issues for both staff and student athletes in the department.

Students have historically criticized NU’s Title IX policy — including its methods for evaluating consent — for not doling out adequate consequences to those accused of sexual assault. In 2021, former NU cheerleader Hayden Richardson (Weinberg ’21) filed a lawsuit against the University, alleging it had violated Title IX by covering up her claims of sexual harassment made in 2019.

According to University policy, NU judges consent questions based on “whether a sober, reasonable person in the same position knew or should have known” that the person implicated was unable to consent.

The confidentiality regarding Title IX issues to which students are entitled varies across personnel. While the Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinators are not required to maintain confidentiality, all University Health Services staff are confidential resources — including athletic trainers and team physicians.

“Title IX Coordinators and Deputy Coordinators are not a confidential source of support,” the Office of Equity’s webpage states. “While they will address your complaint with sensitivity and will keep your information as private as possible, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.”

Confidential on-campus resources outlined in NU’s interim policy on Title IX sexual harassment for 2022-23 include the Center for Awareness, Response and Education; Counseling and Psychological Services; Religious and Spiritual Life; the Faculty Wellness Program; the Employee Assistance Program and the Office of the Ombudsperson. However, these resources may violate confidentiality in situations where an individual may be in imminent danger, among other scenarios that are required by law to report. 

Community members may also seek University resources for Title IX issues, even if they do not wish to move forward with formal action. The Office of Equity will guide students on how to contact local and campus law enforcement, but it does not force any individual to go to the police.

Presidential administrations have also revised and amended Title IX in recent years. In 2017, former president Donald Trump revoked guidance from the Obama administration that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity. 

The Biden administration has rolled back much of the Trump-era Title IX reform, with the U.S. Department of Education unveiling a set of amendments in June that would expand Title IX protections to include LGBTQ+ students. The DOE proposal would also restore the responsibility of schools to investigate all sexual harassment complaints, which the Trump administration rescinded in 2020. 

As NU remains embroiled in the cheerleading lawsuit, some students’ negative experiences with the Office of Equity have also raised concerns about the University’s Title IX process. Still, University President Michael Schill told The Daily last month that NU is committed to combatting sexual discrimination and harrasment.

“Every university needs to address sexual violence,” Schill said. “That is just entirely unacceptable.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @rjleung7

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maiapandey

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