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Best Practices in Title IX Case Management for Institutions of Higher Education

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Justine Cameron
September 29, 2029

Note: The following piece was originally published in the Spring 2023 edition of PA Times Magazine.

Since enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which dictates that no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex under any educational program receiving federal funding, there has been immense policy growth aimed at protecting learners against discrimination and harassment in education. Now, it is time to fine tune the procedures that universities have rolled out in response to these policies.

This broadly defined act has been applied toward many sex discrimination concerns over time, starting with female athletics. The number of female athletes in high school sports has risen by about three million in the past 40 years, a significant step in the right direction in bridging the gap between male and female inequality in athletic opportunity.

Title IX also was referenced in suggesting elimination of sex discrimination in college acceptance and employment. More recently, it was cited when outlining the requirements of schools to investigate sexual assault and sexual harassment claims. In short, schools must report and respond to these concerns in their learning environments. Referring to the specific set of guidelines provided in a 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” distributed by the U.S. Department of Education, there was expected to be distinct changes in reporting and investigation quality after that time.

Best Practices in Higher Education

The Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct suggests that 26 percent of undergraduate female students on college campuses will be sexually assaulted or harassed in some capacity. As sexual violence on campus becomes more studied and understood, institutions of higher education (IHEs) continue to improve their investigative strategies and practices, particularly providing proper education and training to students on reporting procedures, investigative strategies and on-campus points of contact. Students often graduate not knowing who their Title IX coordinator was. More concerning is that many who are aware of the resources available to them do not trust that they will receive effective support. Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, former deputy director at the organization Know Your IX, found that only half of students surveyed on Title IX concerns believed their college would conduct a fair investigation. Even worse, she wrote, “this percentage was markedly lower for the groups most likely to be victimized, namely female and transgender students.”

As students learn about campus resources, it is critical to give them multiple touch points with Title IX officers. I have found in my work as a higher education administrator that orientation programming is a great first opportunity to outline expectations for students and introduce them to administrators and departments that exist to support them. Bystander intervention training, a skill everyone should develop, is one activity that can introduce them to Title IX contacts and procedures. There, Title IX officers have a space not only to introduce themselves, but also lead a skills session, something that students may find more memorable than a didactic lecture.

Dedicated Title IX Coordinators

Make the Difference The notable growth in sexual assault reporting post-distribution of the Dear Colleague Letter of 2011 shows that making students aware of their resources, strengthening proactive training initiatives and enhancing reporting procedures (all of which the letter demanded) heavily impact the likelihood that a student reports and seeks help following an incident.

Not all IHEs have a Title IX coordinator whose specific role is to focus on investigations. Of the schools that do have devoted resources, there tends to be a much larger number of cases reported in recent years, as compared to schools with Title IX contacts with other primary responsibilities—like a dean of students, senior advisor to the president or dean of liberal studies. This example further speaks to the best practices of case management: Devoted support makes a difference.

Looking at the data of sexual assault reports at IHEs post-2011 can help higher education administrators further develop best practices for supporting and educating students. Similarly, conducting research on sexual violence reporting practices and investigative techniques benefits the educational policy community as it helps us better understand the significance and strength of guidelines and communication provided by the Department of Education. A policymaker might also use the research to improve institution-specific policies and procedures. It is essential that we lean on data and institutions’ best practices to not only develop robust, effective investigation processes, but ultimately cultivate supportive, safe learning environments for students.

Author: Justine Cameron is director of accreditation at Dartmouth College. She earned her master’s in public policy at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Her professional interests include educational policy, higher education administration and student affairs. A 2020 ASPA Founders’ Fellow, Cameron can be reached at [email protected]

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