Operationalizing Title IX at Baylor University

Title IX is often associated with changes in collegiate athletic programs in the 1970s that impacted the mix of sports featuring female student-athletes. While the Title IX law, which is part of the Education Amendments of 1972, certainly impacted athletic programs by equalizing scholarship support for female student-athletes, guaranteeing participatory opportunities equal to male student-athletes, its reach extends well beyond the playing field.

The overarching purpose of Title IX is to allow equal access in all aspects of higher education. Language from the law states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

This includes the right to a safe environment, as well as protection and support in the event of a breach of safety.

In July 2014, U.S. Senator and former sex crimes prosecutor Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) released results from a national survey about sexual assaults on college campuses. The survey summarized findings from 440 higher-learning institutions and focused on how these institutions handled reports of sexual violence on campus.

The report, McCaskill said, should serve as a "wakeup call" to colleges and universities.

"If we're going to turn the tide against sexual violence, survivors must be protected, empowered and given the confidence that if they make the difficult choice to report a crime, they will be treated with respect and taken seriously," she said.

McCaskill's survey found significant deficiencies nationally in employee training, investigation of sexual assault claims, appropriate administrative positions, student-based campus climate surveys and coordination with law enforcement.

The survey, coupled with a series of roundtable discussions hosted by McCaskill, led to the introduction of federal legislation aimed at holding colleges and universities more accountable. Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was among the legislation's co-sponsors.

"Parents and students need to know that the difference in colleges isn’t just in programs or graduation rates, but it’s also in safety," Rubio said in 2014.

On March 7, 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. This extended and strengthened the original 1994 VAWA law, which covers crimes from physical assault to staking and sexual harassment. The reauthorization act, which went into effect July 1, 2015, gives institutions official guidelines to follow, therefore providing survivors a way to hold an institution accountable.

On April 24, 2015, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon issued a Dear Colleague letter that outlined Title IX's broader scope beyond athletic parity and addressed the importance of the Title IX coordinator position and its duties.

Baylor University--a community of almost 20,000 students, faculty, and staff--unfortunately is not immune to cases of interpersonal and sexual violence. Recently, the much-publicized case of Sam Ukwuachu brought attention to the issue at the University. In September 2015, Baylor University's Board of Regents announced they had retained the services of the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP, to conduct a thorough and independent external investigation into the university's handling of cases of alleged sexual violence. The investigation is being led by partners Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, well-recognized experts in the institutional response to all aspects considered by Title IX. Their guidance will help the University pinpoint areas of strength and areas where improvement may be needed.

However, Baylor University began addressing new recommendations for Title IX compliance well before April's Dear Colleague letter and well before the Ukwuachu legal case made headlines this summer. Over the last year, the University has focused on staffing a robust and well qualified Title IX office, educating students, faculty and staff, and undertaking a comprehensive marketing campaign to help everyone know their role in preventing and reporting interpersonal violence.

In November 2014 after a nationwide search, Baylor hired Patty Crawford as Title IX Coordinator. Crawford, who came to Baylor after years of experience assessing similar issues at Indiana University, oversees all 10 categories of sex discrimination prevention, awareness and complaints. She oversees Title IX investigations, hearings and appeals; university-wide remedies of sex discrimination; development and implementation of Title IX training programs for students, faculty and staff; rights, resources and options consultation with complainants and respondents; and, when appropriate, coordination with law enforcement on documented instances of sexual assault.

Crawford and others in her position at educational institutions across America are looking for ways to reduce instances of sex discrimination, particularly interpersonal violence on campus. She believes it starts with changing the culture.

"We have to create a structure where universities provide and model research-based prevention programming; offer fair, prompt and equitable disciplinary processes for complaints of sex discrimination; and ensure that all members of our communities have the resources to feel safe and be academically successful," Crawford said.

Institutions nationally are beginning to emulate some of Baylor's efforts.

"I get calls weekly from Title IX colleagues from across the country asking for information on our new model, including policy, adjudication, office structure, prevention programs for students, as well as reporting training for faculty and staff and all-around best practices," Crawford said. "Title IX coordinators across the country depend on one another and are a tight circle of professionals. I am always happy to help and to also learn from my peers in the industry. It is reciprocal."

Crawford's staff includes two full-time Title IX investigators, who joined Baylor during the spring semester. She also coordinates the Title IX Case Management Team, the Title IX Support Team, the Sexual Assault Advisory Board and the Title IX It’s On Us BU Student Leadership Team.

"We work with faculty, staff and students to help them become very aware of what our office is--that we exist and that we are here to support those who have an experience with something related to these very difficult topics," Crawford said.

Baylor has four areas of focus: awareness, prevention education, trust-building and remediation. The goal is a proactive, positive, transparent, simple and easily understood message that reinforces the need for students and employees to understand the reporting policies and procedures and things they can do to prevent the occurrence of interpersonal violence in our community.

"We can apply our Christian principles to this culture," Crawford said. "We are building a fair, equitable, thorough and caring process many colleges don’t have."

Initiatives such as It's On Us BU began at Baylor in the fall 2015 semester. It's On Us is a national public awareness campaign to raise visibility and help prevent campus interpersonal violence. The campaign includes airing public service announcements at sporting events and many student activity-based events as well as posters around campus, T-shirts and social media messages in hopes to get students, faculty and staff thinking and talking about their roles in leading a shift in national culture.

Furthermore, all student-athletes in Baylor's 19 varsity sports were required to attend Title IX training sessions addressing interpersonal violence awareness, reporting, and bystander intervention prevention programming during the summer. This same seminar was required for all incoming freshmen and transfer students at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester.

Likewise, a highly rated online training program was licensed and all faculty and staff were required to complete the Title IX training by the end of September. University executive administration and student leadership members completed the training at the end of the spring 2015 semester.

The Title IX team, in collaboration with the Baylor Sexual Assault Advisory Board, has trained all freshmen and new transfer students. This ongoing training started with in-person training the second day of class and continues now with required online training. Title IX training also is available for upperclassmen and graduate students who are interested either individually or with their respective clubs and organizations. The training options and a variety of related programs will continue throughout the academic year.

"We want to be the national model for University Title IX programs-- an example for other schools to follow in how we not only address the issue but also start showing how we can make a positive impact, going far beyond what’s required," Crawford said.

To learn more about the efforts of the Title IX office at Baylor please visit baylor.edu/titleix.