By Sasha Rivera ‘19
On March 24, Scripps College hosted a workshop about Title IX activism and how its civil rights approach is used to fight against gender-based violence in educational institutions. In addition, there were discussions about how this differs from and is better than a criminal justice method, as well as the current legislative landscape. The workshop was led by Mahroh Jahangiri and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, who are the Deputy Directors of Know Your IX, a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.
Jahangiri lives and organizes in Washington DC where she is a columnist for Feministing.com. She used to be a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and her previous research on immigration detention in Washington, DC and work in Cairo, Egypt has focused on the ways in which American militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact non-white communities transnationally. Ridolfi-Starr is the co-founder of Carry That Weight, an organization that merged with Know Your IX last year. Because she is a second-generation queer woman and a survivor of sexual assault, she focuses on the voices of survivors and people with marginalized identities in her work against violence. Ridolfi-Starr says she is committed to creating community-centered solutions to sexual violence that do not rely on the inherently violent and oppressive prison-industrial complex.
The workshop began with a discussion of gender violence in terms of how it is defined and what type of situations fall under this category; besides sexual assault, things like stalking, dating violence, and online harassment all qualify as gender violence.
“Violence often serves to maintain structural and cultural gender inequalities,” Ridolfi-Starr said. She also described how the term “sexual misconduct” was created by universities to minimize and sanitize language relating to sexual assault.
Next, the presentation moved on to an assortment of statistics about sexual violence and dating violence in various groups. One in five women, one in 20 men, and one in four transgender people experience sexual violence in college. While 43 per cent of college women undergo dating violence, this number is even higher for women of color in both dating and sexual violence, Moreover, people with disabilities are three times more likely to face sexual violence. Gay and bisexual men are ten times more likely to experience sexual violence as well. However, these numbers were based on reported cases; in reality, the amounts are much higher due to the creation of a culture of silence, stigma, and victim blaming. After all, about 95 per cent of college students do not report their sexual assaults.
The presenters asked the audience for reasons why victims might not report; responses included fear of social ramifications, desire to not interact with the abuser ever again, fear of invalidation, stress, and even just being too busy to deal with the process. In addition, undocumented students do not report out of fear of deportation. For students of color, the threat of police brutality can also prevent them from reporting.
Then, they moved onto the main topic, which is the overall explanation of Title IX and its purpose. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education. It protects all students, staff, and faculty in educational programs that get federal funding. Sexual violence on campus qualifies as gender discrimination because, for example, simply being in the same class as the abuser can be detrimental to victims and keep them from their education. Though the law itself is short, Title IX has been expanded and made more robust so that it can offer a wider variety of protections. It makes schools protect civil rights and educational access for students. Unfortunately, many religious schools apply for exemption from Title IX requirements.
“Title IX is a pretty all-encompassing legal tool,” Ridolfi-Starr said. She explained that the law protects you even against assault from people who do attend your school. It provides you with accommodations in terms of health, education, and housing. Victims can even get no-contact orders, which are generally good except they also place more burden on survivors and only apply on campus.
“Title IX protects you even before you make an official complaint,” Jahangiri said.
The audience was then asked to discuss a list of questions. The first asked about what’s going on in the campus and community, as well as the biggest challenges in combatting sexual and dating violence at school. The second questions inquired about the intersection of gender violence on campus and the third asked about how this movement connects to other anti-violence efforts like Black Lives Matter. Audience members brought up the complexities and disorganization that arise with being in a consortium, such as how the policies of the perpetrator’s school are used in sexual assault cases. They also said that there isn’t enough communication between groups like Advocates and the Empower Center, as well as that not enough people file complaints or understand their rights. One student also brought up that most employees on campus are mandatory reporters so they feel that they cannot confide in authority figures about their situations.
The common campus issues associated with sexual assault and its handling are not enough prevention education, a lack of fair and prompt investigations, not enough transparence, and a lack of campus climate surveys. However, student activists are fighting back by filing Title IX complaints, targeting decision makers at school and in governments, using the power of the media, telling their stories, utilizing artistic activism and symbolism, and engaging in national collaboration.
When asked about advice in creating policy changes, Ridolfi-Starr and Jahangiri discussed the absence of protections due to consortium policies and stated that the first step was to figure out who are the authority figures with decision-making powers in these situations. They also advised that when protesting, activists should focus on specific and repetitive ideas in order to better spread a cohesive message. They also suggested more coalition between consortium students in the forms of committees and task forces, as well as a push for centralization of Title IX resources for the colleges.