Three sophomore students gathered around a table in the Title IX Office at Baylor University. With a twinge of apprehension, one woman spoke up. "We're here because we're concerned about our roommate. We think she's in an abusive relationship, and we want her to get help." A student employee called his sister after a mandatory campus recreation staff Title IX training at the beginning of the school year. "I know you don't want to tell anyone what happened to you, but I just met the woman you need to talk to." A Baylor student intervened in the midst of an escalating situation between a friend and his girlfriend. After reporting the incident, a Title IX investigation began less than 24 hours later.
These examples, and others like them, are the result of a rising culture of awareness about healthy relationships and a caring community at Baylor University. Students are reporting concerns about their peers, sharing knowledge of how to get help and safely intervening in potentially violent situations. Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, more members of the Baylor community than ever before stepped forward to report and intervene, in tandem with an increase in prevention training and awareness about Title IX.
This awareness comes with the painful recognition that sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking impact our students, both on and off campus. As a Baylor family, we acknowledge with heavy hearts that the Findings of Fact of the Pepper Hamilton investigation indicate that we failed to live up to our mission, vision and calling in preventing and responding to allegations of sexual violence on campus.
Recommendations for improvement of university processes, as outlined by Pepper Hamilton, are actively underway. Baylor's Title IX Office, leadership and administration are committed to continuing to adapt to federal mandates and recommendations as a deeper campus understanding of Title IX and the requirements placed on educational institutions continue to take shape and to ensuring the university provides a caring community and safe campus for the entire Baylor family.
With the national outcry for institutional accountability to uphold federal Title IX mandates, questions have surfaced about university requirements to protect students. What exactly is Title IX? Why are colleges and universities responsible for investigating such serious crimes as sexual assault and rape?
Part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX is a federal mandate that protects students, employees and third parties from sex discrimination in education programs and activities. The law, overseen by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Education (DOE), includes directives related to recruitment, admissions, financial assistance, athletics, sex-based harassment and employment.
Throughout the 1980s, the courts interpreted Title IX to include sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX. In April 2011, OCR made it clear that Title IX also applied to sexual assault. Title IX's original intent--to prevent sex-based discrimination and provide access to the civil right of an unencumbered education--broadened, as did the responsibilities of educational institutions. OCR's April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter offered additional guidance to help clarify compliance with federal legislation. During this time, Baylor University appointed a senior administrator as the Title IX coordinator, which was an acceptable practice under federal recommendations.
In March 2013, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 was signed into law. The act, which went into effect in March 2014, with final rules implementable as of July 1, 2015, gives institutions official guidelines to follow to prevent and respond to sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking--acts that are typically crimes under state law.
In November 2014, Baylor University established a separate office devoted to the coordination of the university's compliance with Title IX. Currently, Baylor's Title IX Office is staffed with a full-time coordinator; two full-time investigators, who are trained in investigating Title IX related cases and are trauma-informed; a full-time case manager, who is a licensed social worker; a full-time training and prevention specialist; a full-time office manager and two part-time adjudicators, both legally trained and trauma-informed. (Trauma- informed services are influenced by a recognition of the significant impact of trauma on those who experience it and protects against re-traumatization with a consistent sensitivity to the recovery process.)
Under Title IX, education institutions that receive federal financial aid are required to investigate reported allegations of sexual discrimination and remediate the impact. Educational institutions are required to provide this protection to students, employees and third parties.
"The real essence of Title IX is academic success," Patty Crawford, Title IX Coordinator, said. "Everyone has the right to an education, and that educational right is paramount to me and to everyone else that works at Baylor and loves Baylor."
The process of sharing a concern with the Title IX Office allows the staff to connect the complainant--the individual(s) allegedly subjected to prohibited conduct--with support services. At Baylor, reports are received in a number of ways--from the complainant, the Baylor police department, faculty members, staff members or students reporting for a friend or as witnesses. Once a report is received, the complainant is informed of rights, options and resources and is asked if he or she would be willing to meet with the Title IX Office to talk about safety and success.
"An important part of the process is to understand what the student needs and what help they are seeking from the university. Many complainants do not want to move forward with an investigation. Baylor carefully balances a complainant's request with its obligation to maintain an environment free from harassment and discrimination. We try to respect and honor every complainant's choice on whether they want to participate in any aspects of an investigation. When there is a broader issue of campus safety, we take steps to move forward when we can. For those students who have chosen to participate, every step of the process is trauma-informed," Crawford said. "Even if [the complainant] does not want a university process, we still can help them in terms of the criminal report process, and if they don't want that, then we work with them on a safety and success plan. These plans include university and community resources and are very unique to the needs of each individual."
For the university to pursue disciplinary action, the respondent--the individual(s) reported to have engaged in prohibited conduct--must be a formal part of the campus community (e.g. faulty, staff, student or volunteer). If the complainant does not want to participate in a formal process, but the Title IX coordinator determines a campus safety issue is present, the process commences, with or without the active participation of the complainant.
"It's really important that people understand if we don't have jurisdiction over the respondent, we can't take action against that person, because discipline is based on university access, not based on criminal or civil remedies or standards," Crawford said. "So that does give us some limitations."
Complainants are provided with the option to contact law enforcement regardless of whether the Title IX Office has jurisdiction to investigate. After reviewing the provided collection of rights, options and resources, complainants can request reasonable support services, interim measures and/or protection. This can include counseling services, academic support resources, psychological assistance, spiritual services, financial aid services and university-issued "Do Not Contact Directives."
The Title IX disciplinary process determines, by a preponderance of evidence (i.e. more likely than not), whether a violation of the university policy, which protects the educational environment as mandated by law, has occurred. If deemed responsible, disciplinary sanction(s) are prescribed.
"Our process is not a trial, for we are not a criminal process, but rather a university process. We collect the facts in a fair and impartial manner, allow the parties to review all the facts and evidence, and then a trauma-informed adjudicator meets individually with the parties and their advisors," Crawford said.
In the criminal justice system, a burden of proof "beyond reasonable doubt" is required to prove guilt of the accused party. The maximum penalty for a convicted crime of aggravated sexual assault is a prison sentence. In contrast, under a university Title IX process, a preponderance of evidence is used to determine responsibility. As Title IX protects the civil right to an education, the most extreme discipline that can be provided by the university upon a finding of responsibility is expulsion of the respondent.
Throughout the disciplinary process, the Title IX Office continues to work with the complainant and the respondent to ensure a fair and equitable process and that both parties maintain access to academic opportunity, unless an interim sanction is instated for the responding party during the investigation.
"We can do unique things that maybe police departments can't do," Crawford said. "We can look at ways to empower the student to be successful and to graduate and to feel good about graduating. From day one with a student, we offer many interim remedies for student safety and success. There shouldn't be any immediate barriers to get to class, feel safe in their residence hall or apartment, and enjoy aspects of the university that all students have the right to enjoy. Our case management offerings are vast and customized per student and create meaningful success remedies. We don't need to have a person found responsible to provide these remedies, and after a disciplinary process concludes, we continue to serve our students and support their success."
Nine months before the release of the Pepper Hamilton findings of fact, Baylor University's Title IX Office began implementing a robust expansion of training, prevention and awareness opportunities and requirements for students, faculty and staff.
Trainings center around five objectives--developing an understanding of Title IX law and guidance (student civil rights), building awareness of the Title IX Office at Baylor, distinguishing healthy relationships from unhealthy ones, empowering action through a research-supported method of bystander intervention and explaining reporting requirements.
"We aim to empower everyone on campus with the information and resources to not only take care of one another in the event of an act of interpersonal violence, but to create a campus where acts of interpersonal violence are not tolerated, and everyone is committed to keeping each other safe," said Sarah McPherson, Baylor University's Title IX training and prevention specialist.
Throughout the fall 2015 semester, 4,000 incoming students participated in mandatory prevention and awareness training. All student workers, including tutors and orientation, line camp and community leaders, were trained on the scope of their reporting requirements. Staff and faculty, including graduate students with teaching responsibilities and study abroad faculty, were trained in prevention and mandatory reporting.
In the 2016-17 academic year, every Baylor student, faculty and staff member will participate in mandatory Title IX training.
"Ultimately, our goal is real, true prevention," Crawford said. "If we can prevent personal violence from happening, that's why I do this work. That's why anyone on my team does the work they do. We want discrimination to end."
One sign of the effectiveness of Baylor University's increased emphasis on training and prevention efforts may be the increase in the number of Title IX reports. With increased awareness, students are better able to seek the help they need--and to know where to go to get it. In addition, the Title IX Office gathers information through assessments following training sessions and is seeing a shift in campus culture through active intervention.
Since fall 2015, Baylor University has experienced a marked increase in direct reporting, bystander intervention and students seeking help for peers in their social circles, indicating the effectiveness of Title IX's prevention and awareness efforts.
Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, the Title IX Office experienced a significant increase in reports of interpersonal violence. An increase in the number of reports filed does not necessarily reflect an increase in incidents but rather an increase in reporting, indicating the trainings are effectively raising awareness of the purpose and function of Baylor University's Title IX Office. Students are increasingly being empowered to seek help for themselves and their peers. Reports include complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and other inappropriate sexual behavior.
In addition to an overall increase in reports filed, the office has experienced an uptick in the use of a direct line for reporting and getting help. Baylor has worked hard to make the Title IX Office visible on campus, and students are seeking help directly. This increase in direct reports is another sign of the effectiveness of Baylor's Title IX Office.
Immediately following trainings and awareness events, surveys are provided to participants, to measure the effectiveness of messaging and programming.
From a survey following the Title IX "It's On Us BU" New Student Event in fall 2015:
From a survey following the online student course, which was required training for all students new to Baylor University in Fall 2015:
According to Crawford, intervention is the only proven method that works within peer groups to begin to change a culture. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Baylor students are applying both direct and indirect bystander intervention methods in their social circles.
Crawford says that education is a necessary step in shifting campus culture. In order to change campus culture, Baylor is informing students about Title IX, the purpose of the Title IX Office and Baylor University's policy regarding sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Students and student groups are being empowered with tools and resources to transform the culture within their peer groups and the university more broadly.
However, culture does not change overnight. Research indicates that culture in a college setting shifts every two years. Baylor's Title IX Office continually assesses the unique needs and trends among students in order to adapt trainings and messaging to best support a culture of care and healthy relationships.
"Our priority is student safety and being caring and loving under our Christian principles. That is the foundation for everything we do in this office. We look to create an appropriate remedy and be prompt, unbiased, equitable and impartial and to show love and care for our students," Crawford said. "It takes the investment of all members of our community to make Baylor a safe and caring place for all of the students."