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Know Your IX: Fighting to educate

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Title IX infographic made after Betsy DeVos’s rescinded  the 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter.

Title IX infographic made after Betsy DeVos’s rescinded the 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter.

Infographic courtesy of Know Your IX

Infographic courtesy of Know Your IX

Title IX infographic made after Betsy DeVos’s rescinded the 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter.

Natalie Nelson, Staff Writer

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Following a change at the national level surrounding Title IX, Luther College and the Decorah community reflect on how to best stay informed of students rights as they pertain to sexual assault and harassment. 

In September of last year, United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a statement rescinding the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama administration as well as the 2014 Frequently Asked Questions document, which listed questions and answers about Title IX and sexual violence. The “Dear Colleague” letter that DeVos rescinded was drafted by Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden and Former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2011 to provide clearer guidelines for approaching sexual assault for K-12 schools and higher education. DeVos issued “Interim Guidance” in their place. “Interim Guidance” is seeking to increase accountability in students that report sexual assault at their institution. 

Know Your IX is an organization founded in 2013 and led by youths and survivors of sexual assault with the objective of ending sexual and dating violence in schools. Know Your IX accomplishes this by educating students about their rights, training student survivor activists, and advocating for campus policy change. Soon after DeVos released “Interim Guidance” Know Your IX issued a statement arguing against the change.

“Today’s guidance allows schools to systematically stack campus investigations against survivors and push survivors out of school,” the statement read. “The Department of Education is sending the message that they value survivors’ access to education less than that of the students who assault and abuse them. […] Title IX is the law and schools’ responsibility to respond to sexual violence is unchanged. Even though, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education have turned their back on survivors, we will not let universities backslide on their obligation to provide for an equitable and safe learning environment.”

Infographic courtesy of Know Your IX
Title IX infographic made after Betsy DeVos’s rescinded the 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter.

The notice and comment period on “Interim Guidance” is expected to start soon and will entail the introduction of new regulations regarding Title IX by the Education Department. After public input on these regulations, the department is required to respond. If the department cannot adequately provide reasoning for the regulation or if the regulation is deemed not in concordance with Title IX, it may be struck down by the court. According to Know Your IX, the period consists of four stages: the notice of proposed rulemaking, a comment period, issuance of the final rule, and a 30-day delay until the rule goes into effect.

“Because courts can strike down regulations that are insufficiently responsive to public input, writing a detailed comment is an important way for students and advocates to influence the Department of Education’s decision-making,” the Know Your IX website read. “The most important steps for our purposes are the [Notice of Proposed Rule Making] and the comment period.”

Lacy Jorgensen is a Sexual Assault Advocate at the Decorah Riverview Center. She has been with Riverview Center since November of 2016, and in victim services for almost three years. She said Know Your IX is very helpful in keeping people informed and up-to-date on Title IX and providing resources.

“Students should be aware that they can start and stop their involvement in the [appeals] process at any time and that it is typically voluntary,” Jorgensen said. “Students can also file a Title IX complaint at any time — however, the school is limited on what they can do depending on if both students [involved] are still in school or not.”

Jorgensen also provided clarifying information on what qualifies a Title IX complaint.

“You can file a Title IX complaint even if you are not yourself the survivor of sexual assault but have been affected by a hostile sexual environment, or on behalf of another student or group,” Jorgensen said. “Students going through this process also have the right to a support person and accommodations.”

Jorgensen said that Riverview Center’s partnership with Luther allows the center to better serve college students in the area. The center has regular office hours at the counseling center and holds a support group for survivors once a month. The center also works with Norse Against Sexual Assault to bring awareness to the ongoing issue of sexual assault and bring events to campus.

“We are partnered closely with Luther College to make and receive referrals in working with students who are going through the Title IX process or who have been assaulted and choose not to go through the process,” Jorgensen said. “When working with survivors who are going through the Title IX process, we make sure that they are aware of the policies and procedures that Luther has, as well as asking them if they have any questions about Title IX and what that looks like. We also provide and assist with trainings for the Luther College Hearing Board.”

Jorgensen said there are multiple ways for students to be involved in Title IX activism.

“Just being aware of Title IX and how that [filing] process works is important,” Jorgensen said. “Riverview Center provides volunteer and internship opportunities for students and NASA is a great resource for students to get involved with on Luther’s campus. Being an active bystander and speaking up when you see something or hear something that isn’t okay can help make a big impact in regards to changing viewpoints and the actions of others.”

Decorah Middle School Principal Justin Albers said that the notice and comment period will affect college campuses more heavily than a middle school, but that the topics of sexual assault and violence are currently covered in health class.

“Whether it is as relevant at the middle school level as it would be at the college level, if we can begin to give our students some knowledge at an early age as it pertains to this subject, this will be one way for us to empower our students moving forward,” Albers said.

Associate Director of HR at Luther and Title IX Coordinator Matthew Bills said that the notice and comment period is likely to cause only minor changes to the way that things are handled at Luther. According to Bills, this is because the subregulatory guidance needs to stay in concordance with the laws. He said that students carry a responsibility within their community to keep the conversation going.

“We are seeing a culture change in which the broader culture is more willing to talk about issues of sexual assault and violence,” Bills said. “Students should be aware as bystanders to ensure the most promising results and keep the conversation going in order to strengthen the community.”

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