Title IX: A crucial law with a complicated history

The article below contains information concerning sexual assault and violence. If you or someone you know may be dealing with anything of this nature, Hope College has an anonymous reporting form you can access here.

In light of the recent Clery Act Timely Notice, which addressed an incident of sexual assault on Hope College’s campus, as well as the growing social discussion about sexual assault and harassment, The Anchor would like to open up an imperative conversation about the importance of using the sexual violence resources available to students while also addressing the shortcomings of those resources, namely Title IX. 

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. It reads:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… ”

  • 20 U.S.C. § 1681

Essentially, Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination by schools that receive federal funding. Hope College is committed to upholding Title IX values by providing an educational environment free from sexual discrimination, which it defines as “includ[ing] sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking” on the college’s Title IX webpage

By recognizing sexual discrimination as a pervasive and systemic issue, which harms the lives of women worldwide, it is crucial to note that our campus is not an environment free of sexual discrimination. Nevertheless, this need not discourage students from using the numerous resources the college provides. In fact, that is all the more reason for students to educate themselves about what reporting options and resources are available: 

Reports can be made to Campus Safety 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling (616) 395-7770. Staff will assist you with immediate needs and safety concerns while also providing you with options for seeking medical assistance and/or reporting to law enforcement. Campus Safety staff are mandatory reporters, so reports filed with them will be shared with the Title IX coordinator.

Campus Safety staff will do everything in their ability to respect the wishes of the victim regarding next steps. However, if they determine a potential on-going or immediate risk either to the victim or to others on campus, they will contact Holland Police and will provide a Timely Warning Notice to the campus community. (In the case of a timely warning, the identity of the victim will remain confidential.)

Victims may wish to file criminal charges in addition to or instead of filing a report on campus. In this event: 

  • Call 911 for immediate response
  • Call (800) 249-0911 for non-emergency central dispatch to file a report about an incident that occurred in Holland (or another part of Ottawa County)
  • Call (269) 673-3899 to file a report about an incident that occurred in Allegan County

More information can be found online through the Ottawa County Victim Assistance Unit.

Also important to note is the fact that most campus employees are mandated reporters, meaning that they must report any sexual assaults that they become aware of to the campus Title IX Coordinator, Sara Dorer. We want to remind our community that there are several on- and off-campus confidential resources available who are not mandated to report disclosed sexual assaults:

There are also various other off-campus resources to be aware of in the Holland area and the Hope community. Off-campus (non-employees) include:

  • Resilience
    • 24-Hour crisis line: 616-392-1970
    • Information line: 616-392-2829
  • Holland Hospital Emergency Department
  • Local or state assistance agencies
  • Licensed professional counselors
  • Clergy/chaplains

All of the above-listed individuals will maintain confidentiality except in extreme cases of immediacy of threat or danger or abuse of a minor.

All of this information and more can be found on Hope College’s Title IX page. To learn more about prevention efforts, visit Hope’s Prevention Education website

Title IX is an indispensable program that has pushed for the creation and continued preservation of the important resources listed above. Please take advantage of these life-saving resources.

We must also acknowledge, however, the ways in which Title IX falls short in defending victims of sexual discrimination. The law is not living up to its promise of educational opportunity, greatly in part to the changes spearheaded by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In 2017, DeVos announced the removal of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which was enacted by the Obama administration and encouraged institutions of higher education like Hope College to establish and maintain standards of violations parallel to that of Title IX. 

Even further, in May 2020, new legal regulations were placed on Title IX; these too occurred under the Trump Administration and DeVos’ supervision. While the Obama Administration communicated its full support for compliance with Title IX, these regulations allowed schools to choose between the preponderance standard or the higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Basically, more proof was now required to find the accused responsible. Also opened was the door to mediation, which means that informal processes of resolving sexual discrimination cases is now an attractive, cheap, and easy option, holding little regard for the feelings of the victim. 

The worry then, as well as now, is that many victims will thus avoid reporting sexual misconduct in fear of lengthy investigations or harsh penalties. Additionally, accused students may find it easier to fight against accepting responsibility and will have more avenues to “apologize” and move on, leaving the victim traumatized and silenced.

These problems and injustices might seem daunting to an individual who is considering speaking out about sexual discrimination, but the Title IX staff at Hope encourage students to use these resources. Do not let your voice be silenced. Understand your rights and resources, help other people do the same, and above all, protect yourself. 

How? Last semester, Christian Gibson — whose roles on campus include victim advocate and prevention educator — answered some questions about the actions students, staff and faculty can do to acknowledge and address sexual assault and harassment. This is the advice she had to offer: “The best thing students can do to prevent sexual assault and harassment is to step in when they observe something that they believe to be wrong or that makes them uncomfortable. We often shrug away from our inhibitions by telling ourselves that we are overreacting, that it isn’t our place, or we feel social pressure to go along with the group. The reality is, most sexual assault and harassment (along with other forms of interpersonal violence) is preventable. This is called Bystander Intervention.  At Hope, we use both the Green Dot Method as well as Step Up! Some simple tips (from Step Up!) include:

  • Notice the situation: Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Interpret it as a problem: Do I recognize that someone needs help?
  • Feel responsible to act: See yourself as being part of the solution by helping.
  • Educate yourself on what to do.
  • Intervene safely: Take action but be sure to keep yourself safe.”

When asked how we can foster healthy conversations that address such an important topic without hurting anybody, Gibson replied, “The reality is none of us are left unaffected by interpersonal violence. We can start the conversation by talking about positive skills and strategies for living in healthy and authentic relationships. My favorite places to start are with the OneLove Foundation and Loveisrespect.org. […] The more we can work to understand what it means to be in healthy relationships, the more we recognize warning signs of abuse or sexual assault/harassment. Last, consent is everything! If we want to talk about sexual assault and harassment, the first thing to do is ask – are you okay with this? Can we talk about this? And leave space for the other person to say no or set their boundaries to keep themself safe.”

Carole Chee ('24) is the editor for the Beyond section. A double major in English and Women's & Gender Studies, you can find her around campus in the Keppel House, behind the library's research help desk, or in the theatre props shop! She is passionate about uplifting each person's unique story and voice.

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