CW: This article discusses topics of sexual misconduct and assault
This article is part of a series of explainer pieces by the Voice on some of the most important topics on campus. Other articles in the series can be found here.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” –Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972
Title IX Legislative History
On June 23, 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational program or activity offered by entities that receive federal financial assistance. Instances of this discrimination, in addition to exclusion based on gender, include sexual harassment, stalking, domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, or any additional acts of sexual misconduct. Title IX’s intent was, and remains, to ensure educational opportunities are not denied to women on the basis of sex, especially in regards to post-secondary institutions. Prior to Title IX, colleges and universities set admission quotas for women or prohibited them from attending the institution altogether. At Georgetown, women weren’t admitted to the College until 1969, when the university went fully co-ed.
Since the passage of the original Title IX legislation, female enrollment in higher education has increased at a greater rate than male enrollment and in 2009 “approximately 87 percent of women had at least a high school education and approximately 28 percent had at least a college degree,” according to a report by the United States Department of Justice. Title IX programs have been implemented at institutions of higher education across the country, including Georgetown, though in recent years they have faced challenges from the Trump administration.
Title IX at Georgetown
At Georgetown, the term “Title IX” not only refers to the 1972 legislation but also to the on-campus Title IX office responsible for the implementation of Georgetown’s Title IX procedures. Though the office is technically tasked with ensuring equal opportunity between genders at Georgetown, the majority of their work centers around responding to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
According to the university’s Title IX website, Georgetown “prohibits sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking,” and under Title IX is required to respond to any incident of sexual harassment and misconduct once their Title IX office is aware of it.
As part of its efforts to implement Title IX, in recent years Georgetown has appointed a Title IX coordinator and deputy Title IX coordinators, as well as a Title IX investigator, whose contact information can be found here. Georgetown hired its first full-time Title IX coordinator, Laura Cutway in January of 2016. Prior to Cutway’s hiring, the university employed deputy coordinators at Georgetown campuses to oversee Title IX compliance. Cutway left her role in June of 2018, leaving a vacancy in the Title IX coordinator position. The role was filled by current coordinator Samantha Berner, who also served as the Title IX investigator at the time.
The lack of a full-time coordinator concerned members of the student body, and Students Taking Action Against Interpersonal Violence (STAIV), a group formed in response to what they saw as inadequate Title IX policy, sent an open letter to the university addressing the vacancy in the Title IX Office on August 31, 2018. They expressed the belief that an individual serving as both the interim coordinator and the Title IX investigator compromised the separate importance of both roles. Over a year later in February of 2020, the university announced that Sarah Onori would begin working as the new Title IX and civil rights investigator in the spring, leaving Berner open to serve only in the coordinator role.
Currently, Berner serves as the Title IX coordinator and director of Title IX compliance and Onori serves as the Title IX and civil rights investigator for the Office of Title IX Compliance and Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA). Rosemary Kilkenny serves as the Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at the Office of IDEAA and is also a Title IX contact.
Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Surveys and Responses
On January 14, 2016, Georgetown released its first-ever Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey. The survey was a modified version of a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) that was administered to 27 universities nationwide in 2015.
51 percent of Georgetown’s student body participated in the survey. Georgetown released the results from the first survey in June 2016, which revealed that almost one-third of surveyed female undergraduate respondents reported having experienced non-consensual sexual contact as a result of physical force or incapacitation. Georgetown’s rate of female sexual assault was eight percentage points higher than the AAU average of 23 percent from the previous year. The survey also reported that 16.9 percent of Georgetown respondents witnessed someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner and that half of these bystanders said they took no action.
Following the 2016 climate survey, administrators formed a one-year Sexual Assault Working Group (SAWG) of students, faculty, and students to discuss sexual assault education, bystander intervention, drug and alcohol abuse, and underrepresented on-campus groups.
Beginning with the class of 2021, all incoming first-years and transfer students are now required to complete a mandatory Bystander Intervention training, which involves a half-day educational course giving advice on how to intervene in a situation of potential sexual assault and combat sexual misconduct on Georgetown’s campus for students of all identities, as well as information on drug and alcohol abuse. Bystander Intervention training is run by Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE), which is an on-campus student group that “aims to create a survivor-centric campus at Georgetown.” Through trainings and workshops, SAPE seeks to engage the Georgetown community in discussions about sexual assault and creating a “culture of consent” on campus. SAPE’s workshops are offered to student groups and organizations on campus and address sexual assault, relationships, intervention and how to support survivors.
In February of 2019, the university conducted a second Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. This time, Georgetown participated with 32 other universities in AAU’s national survey. Just under forty percent of the Georgetown student body took the survey. Despite efforts following the 2016 survey, reported rates of sexual assault and harassment did not decrease in the 2019 survey. Additionally, 25.7 percent of the survey respondents who reported being victims of sexual assault or misconduct said that the perpetrator was a faculty member or professor.
Following the survey results, university faculty and administration held a listening session to discuss the results from the Spring 2019 climate survey. Students expressed frustration that, despite mandatory Bystander Training for all incoming students, rates of sexual assault remained similar or even slightly higher than those reported three years before.
Student Activism in Title IX Policy
A 2015 Hoya article, “I Stand With Willa, I Stand With Survivors,” recounted a student’s experience as a survivor of rape and their struggle to receive adequate support from the university. The article sparked a campus-wide discussion about sexual assault and resulted in a series of meetings between the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) members and SAPE to discuss improvements to Georgetown’s Title IX policy.
In August 2015, after two months of negotiations, GUSA and the university administration reached a Memorandum of Understanding, in which the university agreed to focus renewed attention on Title IX issues, including increasing existing resources for survivors, improving bystander training, hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator, and covering financial costs for survivor’s legal pursuits.
STAIV, the student activist group that petitioned the university to fill the Title IX coordinator position, continued activism against suggested changes to Title IX policy by Education Secretary Betsy Devos in 2018. Students raised concerns that suggested policy changes, meant to reduce universities’ liability in Title IX investigations, ultimately prevented survivors from coming forward and receiving justice.
In 2019, heightened student activism in the form of the S.T.O.P. Coalition advocated for more resources for black femme-identifying survivors of sexual assault. “S.T.O.P.” is an acronym for multiple dynamic titles, including “Survivors Targeting Oppressive Policies” and “Survivors Terminating Outdated Policies.”
A petition calling for a Black trauma specialist, Black Title IX coordinators, improved sexual assault education, and increased Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) implicit bias training was signed by over 300 undergraduates and delivered to University Provost Robert Groves’ office on March 22, 2019. The petition followed a discussion on masculinity sponsored by the Black House which highlighted the predominance of on-campus assault and lack of resources specifically for Black women and femme-identifying students.
While the S.T.O.P. Coalition called for improved resources throughout the 2018-2019 academic year, their demands went largely unmet. In the spring of 2020, undergraduate students from across the university formed a new organization, the Black Survivors Coalition (BSC), which increased student activism demanding resources for Black and femme-identifying survivors of sexual assault. In a letter to the administration titled #GeorgetownDoesntCare, the BSC called for the requests of the S.T.O.P. Coalition to be fulfilled and added demands for a gender-based violence specialist, Women and Genders Studies Department (WGST), 24-hour crisis response center, improved SafeRide system, and a permanent mental health stipend for students to pursue off-campus resources.
The BSC gave administrators a deadline to publicly respond to their demands. The university response, which was not publicly available but sent to individual leaders of predominantly Black on-campus organizations, was deemed insufficient by the coalition. In February 2020, members of the BSC and students from intersectional organizations began a week-long sit-in outside University President John DeGioia’s office. Throughout the week, students met with administrators in a series of negotiations for improved resources including the temporary hiring of ten Black women healthcare providers, a program director for a WGST Department, a director for the WGST Program, and permanent women of color Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) clinician.
The university also committed to increasing resources for the Women’s Center, adding more SafeRide vans to reduce waits, and to fill a newly created position for a gender-based violence specialist.
While most of the BSC’s coalitions’ demands were met, calls for a 24-hour crisis response center and more funding for a mental health stipend were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions around these issues are expected to continue in future academic years.
Title IX for a New Generation
Student activism has not only taken place through on-campus activist groups but also through student-created curriculum. In the fall of 2019, adjunct professor Sara Collina and a small collection of students designed “Title IX for a New Generation,” a class to understand, discuss, and analyze Title IX in an academic environment. The course is offered in the WGST department beginning in the spring of 2020 and aims to address both the on-campus and national context of Title IX.
The Fall 2019 course focused on designing a syllabus and curriculum which was officially introduced to other Georgetown students in the Spring 2020 class.
The class emphasizes projects and change-making, pushing students to question the status quo and to think about and develop improvements to university Title IX policy. Since the creation of the class, student activists have also called for it or an alternative course about Title IX and on-campus sexual misconduct to be integrated into the core curriculum for all undergraduates.
On April 27, 2020, in the first annual colloquium with the administration, the “Title IX for a New Generation” class proposed reforms to combat sexual assault on campus. These policy proposals came from the student’s final projects and their research on Georgetown Title IX issues. The recommendations included expanding sexual assault training for adjunct professors and improving GUPD’s response to survivors. While administration members said they were grateful for student participation policy proposals, no specific recommendations have been adopted.
The Future of Title IX
In May 2020, Secretary DeVos published a series of changes to Title IX regulations, based on the 2018 proposal STAIV responded to. The policies are meant to ensure increased protection for students accused of sexual assault and protect universities’ liability, but have come under severe criticism for dissuading survivors of sexual misconduct from reporting their assaults.
The new guidelines change the definition of sexual harassment to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
The new regulations also allow accused students to view all evidence collected against them and introduce mandatory hearings where prosecuting students can be cross-examined by an attorney or representative.
Under the 2020 guidelines, individual universities are able to choose which standard of evidence they use during investigations. Previously, cases were required to have a “preponderance of evidence” standard that required an accused student to be found likely of committing assault. Universities may now elect a standard of “clear and convincing evidence” during hearings, in which more evidence is required to prosecute a student for sexual assault.
These guidelines also prevent universities from investigating cases of sexual misconduct that occur off-campus or during study abroad programs. While the guidelines since 2011 advised a 60-day investigation period, DeVos’ policies offer no suggested time period. The Department of Education (ED) estimates that the new policies will reduce university costs in sexual assault investigations by $456 million.
When DeVos released the preliminary guidelines in 2018, students across the country raised concerns that the policies would compromise the safety and legal agency of survivors of sexual assault, with more than 124,000 public comments submitted to the ED.
The newly-founded group STAIV sent a letter to DeGioia and other university administration, urging them to denounce the proposed changes. In December 2018, DeGioia and other university administrators hosted a series of listening sessions in response to DeVos’ proposed Title IX changes. At these sessions, students and faculty voiced their opposition to the changes and the proposed regulations. Student activism and opposition continued, and on January 15, 2019, STAIV co-hosted a town hall with the Black Student Alliance (BSA) to discuss the ED’s proposed changes as well as the university’s approach to preventing interpersonal violence. At the end of January, Georgetown submitted a formal comment to the ED regarding the proposed changes to Title IX’s enforcement. The comment criticized the changes, highlighting the university’s concern about the proposed changes to the standards of accountability for educational institutions regarding sexual assault.
In July 2020, university administrators pledged to maintain the “preponderance of evidence” standard for hearings as well as keeping the Title IX reporting process as similar as possible to the former model. Administrators did not commit to the recommended 60-day investigation period.
While the university will be required to use new federal definitions for sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, the administration has assured students that the same sexual misconduct will remain prohibited under the Student Code of Conduct.
- BSC Activism
- “Title IX for a New Generation”
- New Title IX Regulation
- Current Student Activism
- Perspective from a survivor
Health Education Services (HES): firstname.lastname@example.org
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.