Title IX, a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, states that students who attend any institution receiving federal financial assistance from the Department of Education shall not “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.”
Prohibited activities under Title IX include sexual harassment, which covers sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence. Despite this, sexual assault and misconduct remain relatively common on college campuses and have recently received increased attention in the media.
On June 11, 2020, Case Western Reserve University held its “Spring 2020 Day of Dialogue,” which highlighted issues of diversity, inclusion, advocacy and beyond on the CWRU campus.
A month later, an anonymous Instagram account named “@cwru.survivors” began posting stories of sexual misconduct that had been shared by current and past CWRU students.
Their posts uncovered a vast spectrum of sexual misconduct at CWRU and included concerns about the Title IX process and a “rape culture” within Greek Life, varsity and club athletics and other influential student and university organizations campus.
Many felt that the Title IX office was overly concerned with protecting CWRU’s reputation and, as a result, did not provide enough emotional support to survivors. For some, this was enough of a reason not to report the assaults to Title IX officials.
These events culminated in Lou Stark’s announcement of the creation of a task force consisting of seven student-led committees, including one on sexual misconduct, on July 21, 2020. The goal of each committee is to “examine the policies, practices and initiatives necessary to achieve a true culture of respect among all of our students,” said Stark.
Later that August, Darnell Parker, Senior Associate Vice President for Equity and University Title IX Coordinator, addressed concerns that were made in stories from survivors on Instagram.
In a message to students that included updates on the new Title IX regulations, Parker emphasized that the primary role of Title IX investigators is to “conduct a thorough and objective review of the allegations and prepare a report. The investigator cannot and will not favor one party over the other in an investigation—and also cannot in any way appear to do so.”
In December 2020, a student-led committee presented their proposed recommendations to the student body. The feedback period closed Feb. 9 and the proposal will be presented to the Executive Board later this semester.
The proposal created by the Sexual Misconduct Committee (SMC) highlights improvements needed in the Title IX Process: Greek Life, Student Organizations and University Offices; Campus Culture and Education; and Survivor Support. It calls on CWRU to lead by example and be a positive model for how institutions handle sexual misconduct allegations.
Action steps in the proposal included a campus-wide marketing plan to increase awareness about the Title IX process, especially for freshmen, increased transparency of the Title IX and Office of Equity through annual reports related to sexual misconduct and implementation of mandatory sexual misconduct training for all Greek chapter advisors. You can access the draft proposal here.
Léa Cazaudumec Lucas, third-year undergraduate and co-chair of SMC, hopes that the “board of trustees sees the need for many of these initiatives to be approved.” Lucas recognized that changing the campus culture and improving the Title IX process is a long-term effort. However, she is optimistic that the task force will be allotted more time to complete their work.
While the SMC proposal may provide a first step in addressing the prevalence of sexual misconduct on CWRU’s campus, some have argued that the proposal could have called for more drastic changes.
In a Letter to the Editor for The Observer, Rebecca Joseph, a first-year graduate student at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, questioned the influences that faculty and staff advisors had in the proposal. She also expressed serious concerns about the university’s ability to conduct unbiased Title IX investigations.
Instead, Joseph proposed that “all services, hotlines, training, advocacy and investigations should be offered by outside agencies,” such as the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. She hopes that listening to survivors’ voices and understanding their experience can contribute to a safer and healthier CWRU.
The outpouring of stories about sexual misconduct also led to the creation of #MeToo, a student-organization that is dedicated to reforming the rape culture at CWRU. The club has three focuses: support, education and advocacy.
This semester, they began holding bi-monthly virtual support sessions for survivors. They also intend to create a hotline that would provide support and resources, host educational events and work with the Title IX office on reforms. Third-year psychology major and Co-President Zoë Büki hopes that #MeToo will help to form a community of survivors.
Ultimately, we will not know how dedicated the university is to addressing sexual misconduct on campus until definitive action steps are taken. However, the efforts of the SMC, creation of #MeToo and overall increased awareness from students, faculty and the community may suggest that CWRU can become the kind of “welcoming and inclusive community” it strives to be.