Title IX policies, which prohibit sex or gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs, are incredibly important on college campuses. But ask any student on Bruin Walk how these policies are written – or even where UCLA’s Title IX Office is – and chances are you’ll get little more than a blank stare and maybe some shrugs.
That might just change in the near future, though.
The University of California Office of the President opened applications two weeks ago for its first Title IX student advisory board. Undergraduate and graduate students on the board will attend two in-person meetings each year and conduct monthly phone meetings with UC Title IX offices, UCOP said. The board will provide a crucial opportunity for students to finally have more of a say in UC policies on sexual harassment and violence.
There’s just one problem: No one really knows what exactly these student representatives will be doing on their respective campuses – not even the UC’s Title IX office. In fact, the application itself asks what students think the board should do to improve the UC’s sexual harassment and violence prevention programs.
If the board doesn’t define its role early on, it could easily end up as a meaningless body that has little weight in determining Title IX policies.
Education is key to the success of sexual violence and prevention programs. The student advisory board has the unique opportunity to serve as a liaison between on-campus student wellness organizations, students and administrators about Title IX policies and their effects.
The board’s representatives can work with student organizations that already collaborate with Title IX offices to provide students with information in the form of newsletters and social media campaigns, and educate them about campus resources.
And there is a need for this information.
Lucy Barton, a second-year pre-international development studies student, said she doesn’t know exactly what on-campus Title IX offices do, and added she hadn’t heard of the student advisory board.
Grace Harvey, a fourth-year psychology student and co-director of Bruin Consent Coalition, a student organization that works to diminish sexual violence on campus, said the organization has only about 15 to 30 students at some of its events. For example, only 30 students attended a recent event regarding Title IX policies, according to BCC’s Facebook event page.
This lack of awareness of or interest in Title IX policies poses a serious concern. In the past, Title IX offices have been unreceptive to student demands, as seen in the case of Gabriel Piterberg, a professor accused of sexual harassment and welcomed back to campus in winter 2017 despite student protest.
More recently, students have renewed calls for UC Regent Norman Pattiz, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee at his podcast studio, to resign. Students started asking Pattiz to step down almost a year ago, but the UC’s response was merely to require employees and regents to undergo sexual harassment training – all the while failing to solicit student input.
This is where the student advisory board can come in.
“I basically just wanted a set mechanism for getting feedback from students about what they think is working … and then also having a mechanism for me getting information out to students,” said Kathleen Salvaty, the UC Systemwide Title IX Coordinator.
And that’s the point. Student representatives can inform students about changes to Title IX policies and gather information about student opinions on Title IX policies on campus.
The board can model its outreach efforts on those of existing organizations. For example, BCC often updates students about Title IX policies via its website and Facebook page, which has about 3,000 followers. If the board’s representatives were to collaborate with this type of student organization, they could educate many students about Title IX policies and solicit feedback on changes the University should make.
BCC has worked closely with Title IX offices in the past and hopes to be involved with the student representatives in the future, Harvey said.
In addition, student representatives could host town halls, conduct email polls and hold office hours to see what students think of existing Title IX policies and what changes they would like representatives to advocate for.
While it might seem like the board won’t have the resources to enact tangible change, there’s no reason it can’t be successful. Salvaty said that UCOP would be providing resources to the board as it sees fit.
“Certainly I would be willing to support (the student advisory board) in any way I can, whether that’s financially or through our assets within UCOP,” Salvaty said.
Students have the opportunity to form a board that responds to student needs and informs UC systemwide Title IX policies.
But if the board is going to effect tangible change, educating students is the way to do it.