Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are uniting to hold certain universities accountable for Title IX violations, but the University of Texas at Austin is not one of them.
On July 26, the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary of civil rights, urging the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to continue making public the list of colleges and universities under investigation for possible Title IX federal infringements.
“By continuing to publish the list of colleges and universities under investigation for potential violations of Title IX, OCR will show its commitment to survivors and its intent to hold schools accountable for their actions,” the letter said. This list was first made public in May 2014 and now includes 238 academic institutions, and the University of Texas at Austin is not currently under investigation. Texas institutions included the University of Texas-Pan American, Baylor University, Texas A&M University and others.
Since 2011, the number of reported and investigated Title IX cases has increased at UT, according to a report from the UT Title IX office. During the 2012-2013 school year, there were 68 student reports and 27 student investigations, while in the 2015–2016 school year, there were 313 student reports and 286 student investigations.
Shilpa Bakre, communications strategist for the Title IX office, said in an email that this year UT has already surpassed last year’s numbers.
“The national media attention, the institutional changes in initiatives and programming, along with changes made to meet the guidelines included in the Dear Colleague letter, have all had a direct impact on the number of reports,” Bakre said in an email.
Under the Obama administration in 2011, a “Dear Colleague” letter was released by the OCR, providing guidance on Title IX. The letter said sexual assault should be one of the things prohibited under the anti-discrimination policy of Title IX.
With this guidance, students who have faced sexual assault or harassment from a member of the campus community can file a report with UT’s Title IX office. Once the report is filed, Title IX investigators will conduct interviews, collect data and then determine whether the evidence shows the event was more likely than not to have happened, or the “preponderance standard.” If this standard is met, the case is referred to Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.
Even if federal changes were made that would affect Title IX, there are services on UT’s campus for those that have faced interpersonal violence that are not tied to the law. For example, Voices Against Violence, which is part of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, provides counseling, advocacy appointments with counselors, the Survivor’s Emergency Fund which gives money to students for things like changing locks or medical fees and will start the Interpersonal Violence Peer Support program this fall.
“There’s lots of other options, and it really depends on what the person who has the experience feels comfortable doing, which is really varied,” said Lauren White, health education coordinator with VAV.
Alexandra Vanderziel, business honors and supply chain management junior, said she is a victim-survivor who has some friends who have used Title IX for sexual harassment.
“It’s not so much a process for justice … there’s no real justice for this, ever, for any of this in my opinion, but what is important is figuring out how you can heal and feel safe and resume the things that you enjoy doing,” Vanderziel said. “If the University doesn’t have a way to ensure that the victims can do that, then we’re not committed to equal education.”