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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Programs, resources at A&M work to comply with Title IX standards in higher education

Photo+by+Tanner+Garza

Photo by Tanner Garza

Sexual discrimination, harassment and assault — three issues to which the Aggie community is not immune. The university works with state and federal governments to combat sexual violence through the lens of compliance with Title IX.
Title IX, a federal sex equality law, is part of a larger piece of legislation, the United States Education Amendments of 1972. On its fundamental level, Title IX’s purpose is to protect all people against anything that stops them from taking part in educational opportunities on account of their gender.
In the past, Title IX was used in court cases relating to equality in athletics. It wasn’t until about 20 years ago that another issue began to employ Title IX more frequently — sexual harassment and violence cases.
While A&M is not currently under investigation under Title IX, incidents involving sexual harassment or violence continue to crop up. In Spring 2014, there were two reported instances of sexual harassment, two of sexual assault and two of sexual abuse. In Fall 2013, there were four reported cases of sexual harassment, four of sexual abuse and one of sexual contact.
There are likely more that have not been reported. A&M professors and staff said while A&M has programs in place to assist student and staff, there are still obstacles that need to be addressed further. Meg Penrose, professor at the Texas A&M School of Law, has a specialty in Title IX procedure. She stressed that Title IX, established as part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, protects all genders and covers students, staff and faculty.
“Title IX requires any school receiving federal funding makes sure that someone’s gender not be a basis for their inability to access educational opportunities,” Penrose said.
In 2014, President Barack Obama’s administration created a task force to monitor Title IX compliance. Penrose said A&M and other universities have taken the advice seriously.
“They take them very seriously, and we know that sexual harassment in schools is far too common,” Penrose said. “There are some statistics that eight in 10 students say they experience some form of sexual harassment, and that’s not necessarily college and it’s not just girls.”
Kristen Harrell, associate director in the office of the Dean of Student Life and chair of the Sexual Assault Survival Services Committee, said the mission of the organization is to provide education for students and consult with them on issues involving sexual violence.
Harrell said compliance with Title IX is very broad. Ranging from training and education for students to incident response, A&M works to increase awareness of sexual violence issues.
Harrell said effective education can be a challenge. Students may not take the discussions to heart, and those who have been victims of sexual harassment or violence do not report to the university.
On the education tract, Harrell said her committee, along with others like the Women’s Resource Center and Student Conduct Office, hold lectures and distribute information about resources available to survivors and those who seek to help survivors.
Penrose said these programs don’t just communicate information, but also bring an enhanced sense of awareness on college campuses.
“When we have open dialogue and discussion about certain items that exist, it brings a heightened level of awareness,” Penrose said. “It’s not just institutionally speaking that schools say, ‘We support this program and that’s what the law requires,’ but also to remind students that if you find yourself in a vulnerable position, either the school has programs to aid you or they’re providing training.”
Another component of Title IX involves investigating reported acts of sexual harassment or violence. While each case is handled by the Student Conduct Office if it involves students, Harrell said staff and faculty across campus are educated to work with students.
With more people educated on handling cases, Carol Binzer, director of Administrative and Support Services for the Department of Residence Life, said issues can be addressed more efficiently. An example she gave included a student going to the Women’s Clinic for support, but who still had other concerns or issues. If the student needed to be moved into different housing, for example, a practitioner at the Women’s Clinic would know a contact within Residential Life.
Angela Winkler, assistant director of Student Assistance Services, said students do not have to file a formal complaint with the conduct office to receive the care and resource information they need.
“We let them make that decision,” Winkler said. “But even things that I’ve heard when survivors come to me and are trying to decide if they’re going to report, it’s this thing of, ‘I’m going to have to talk about it to strangers.’ … I don’t ask for details. If a student wants to share that with me, I’m here to listen. If they don’t want to, that is okay.”
While Harrell said students may view an adult talking about consent and prevention as a “talking head” at times, she said the university is working on programs that encourage more peer-to-peer interaction.
“Peer-on-peer communication is received much better by students,” Harrell said. “They feel safer speaking to other students. They’re more familiar with the language of the generation and the cultured context.”
Harrell said an ultimate goal is to give students and staff the feeling of empowerment to say something and bring up issues for discussion. A&M, she said, has values that encourage this type of discussion, creating a culture of respect.
Sexual violence does still exist on campus, and Harrell said some traditions may be inhibitors to effective education.
“There are road bumps,” Harrell said. “Mugging down at yell practice can be fine as mutual consent, but there is social pressure to act in tradition.”
Penrose said one misconception about Title IX is that it only applies to students and specifically to females, but nothing in the act that states female. Any gender is protected under the law.
“The good thing about Title IX is that it’s motivation is that no one’s gender, male or female, should prevent or preclude them from gaining access to educational programs,” Penrose said.

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