Title IX class proposes sexual assault reforms to administration

Title IX class proposes sexual assault reforms to administration

By:
05/04/2020

Content Warning: This article references sexual assault and misconduct.

“We are a new generation taking a fresh look at Title IX and gender equity on-campus,” Kayla Friedland (COL ’22) said. “We need approaches that work for us, which is why we choose to be a part of the solution.”

Friedland is a peer mentor for the spring Title IX for a New Generation class, which presented recommendations for improved on-campus sexual assault resources and initiatives to administrators in a colloquium via Zoom on April 27.

Students proposed policies to expand sexual assault training for professors, improve GUPD response to survivors of sexual assault, increase student trust in the administration, and combat on-campus toxic masculinity.

A student-designed class, Title IX for a New Generation is led by peer mentors and taught by Women and Gender Studies adjunct professor Sara Collina. It focuses on Title IX, a civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, including sexual assault and misconduct, at educational institutions. The Title IX office at Georgetown investigates accusations of sexual assault and regulates the university’s Title IX policies.

The Title IX office has been criticized by students after the Title IX and Civil Rights Investigator position remained unfilled for over a year, after the posting became vacant in 2019. Sara Onori filled the opening in Feb 2020.

As their final project, students presented their research on Georgetown Title IX issues to administration including Vice President of Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, Title IX Coordinator Samantha Berner, GUPD Chief Jay Gruber, and Associate Director for Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Services Jen Schweer.

Grace Bush (MSB ’21) and Leila Lappins (SFS ’20) shared their analysis of Georgetown’s 2019 Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey. Bush and Lappins compared Georgetown to 14 universities and the Association of American Universities (AAU) average rate regarding student trust in campus officials to take reports of sexual assault seriously. 

Northwestern, Vanderbilt, University of Virginia, and Rice were the universities with the highest student trust in faculty to respond to claims of sexual assault. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, and Georgetown were the bottom four ranking schools. 

“The disproportionately high levels of sexual assault and misconduct occurring on-campus as compared to AAU schools demonstrates that the university has not achieved a safe campus,” Lappins said. 

Bush recommended more comprehensive training for the administration to improve student trust in Title IX response. “All schools in the top four had ongoing mandatory training. I think this would be interesting for Georgetown to pursue,” she said. 

Siona Sharma (SFS ’20) and Cindy Trần (COL ’20) proposed further Title IX training for professors. Their study examined a 2018 survey of Georgetown professors where half of respondents reported that they had not been trained in Title IX and 34% were unsure of the university’s sexual assault policies. 

Sharma was surprised to discover adjunct professors are not considered faculty and thus do not receive the same Title IX training. “For an upfront issue, Georgetown does not necessarily equip professors and students in the best way to handle sexual misconduct on-campus,” Sharma said.

Sharma worries the university considers on-campus sexual assault as inevitable. “One of the professors I spoke to said that he feels like the Georgetown administration treats issues of sexual misconduct like the weather,” Sharma said. “Like a tornado or a storm it is something that happens every year, but it is just something we have to get through, something we have to handle.”

“That is certainly not the way we should see it,” Sharma added. 

While the university has been criticized for its response to sexual assault and misconduct, the administration held feedback sessions after the release of the Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey last fall to listen directly to the concerns of students. The Title IX office has also held listening sessions specifically for Black House and Casa Latina residents, provided training to graduate students acting as TAs, and added two more semi-confidential reporters to the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access. 

“The University reaffirms its commitment to taking all formal complaints of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, seriously, and will continue to investigate such complaints fairly and vigorously consistent with our policies,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice

Students also researched the role of GUPD in combatting on-campus sexual assault. Samantha Shekarchi (COL ’21) and Claire Carney (COL ’23) highlighted Georgetown’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) as a GUPD initiative aimed at helping survivors. “I found GUPD to be extremely approachable and actually really eager to talk with students,” Shekarchi said. 

While Shekarchi considers the SART program progress in making GUPD a more reliable source for survivors, she encourages GUPD to develop prevention mechanisms. “It is not a full sexual response without any prevention methods,” she said.

After the university transitioned to virtual learning as a result of Covid-19, Collina gave her students the option of whether or not to continue with a colloquium with the administration. Despite the change in learning environment, the students were still eager to express their recommendations, which they see as an essential element of the class. 

“I think that having the administration present shows that they care, they want to listen, and they want to take under consideration how they can implement these ideas,” Zahra Wakilzada (COL ’23) said. “They are not only thinking about academics and what we are learning, but acknowledging that having a safe environment is important for learning,” she added. 

Despite concerns that the Title IX for a New Generation course would not continue to be offered due to funding, the class has been renewed for the fall semester. Students are continuing to push to make Women and Gender Studies an academic department and hope that the Spring 2020 colloquium with administrators was just the first of an annual discussion. 

Wakilzada feels that this class not only allows students to pursue solutions that help them but the entire Georgetown community. “The continuation of this class will be very beneficial to Georgetown. It is one of the only places Georgetown has to make the university welcoming and inclusive and show survivors that they care,” she said. 

“Continuing this class will be a model for the rest of the campus at Georgetown, and campuses across the United States.” 

This post has been updated to reflect Bush’s class year

Confidential Resources:

Health Education Services (HES): sarp@georgetown.edu

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS): (202) 687-6985; after hours, call (833) 960-3006 to reach Fonemed, a telehealth service; individuals may ask for the on-call CAPS clinician

DC Rape Crisis Center: (202) 333-RAPE (24/7 hotline)

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-HOPE (24/7 hotline)

Title IX Online Reporting Form: georgetown.protocall.info/incident-report.

Image Credits: Courtesy of Title IX for a New Generation Instagram

About Author

Sarah Watson

Sarah Watson Sarah is an assistant news editor and a freshman in the SFS. She is a national park enthusiast and mildly obsessed with mountain goats.


2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Title IX class proposes sexual assault reforms to administration”

  1. Avatar __ says:

    great reporting! thanks for sharing about this course

  2. Avatar Amar Weisman says:

    I think this story is a good transition to the new regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Education that create a “real” process for adjudicating sexual assault claims. After Georgetown, I went to law school, became a lawyer and a believer in due process. I think it was troubling that Title IX proceedings were so unofficial, without live hearings, objective standards of evidence, direct examination— these are the things that make courts fair and which were completely missing in the adjudication of sexual assault claims at Georgetown and everywhere else. Two days after your story, the federal government ordered the university to create a new system. There is criticism of the transformation of the system to mirror real courts, but if you put that aside, Georgetown faces a big question, a question the class should consider and perhaps advise the administration: whether to apply the “clear and convincing” standard to punish somebody accused of sexual assault or whether claims must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Here’s what that means: proving something beyond a reasonable doubt is like 99% sure, clear and convincing is like 75% and preponderance is 50.1% (to convince, it has to be more likely than not). That is a huge question, what ata dead of proof will Georgetown requiem, and which standard is adopted will probably impact the conviction rate in a big way. That is a debate, a very real and immediately important debate, and I think the class should weigh in.

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