This past August, The New York Times obtained leaked Title IX proposals from the U.S. Department of Education and published the article “New U.S. Sexual Misconduct Rules Bolster Rights of Accused and Protect Colleges.” If these proposals are implemented, the federal government will only hold colleges and universities liable for handling formal complaints of sexual misconduct that take place on their campuses. Additionally, the proposed rules will significantly increase the rights of students who are accused of sexual misconduct.
Several victims’ rights advocates have spoken out about the leaked proposals. Jess Davidson, the executive director of End Rape on Campus, told The New York Times that they were a “tacit endorsement of making campuses a safer place to commit sexual assault, rather than a safer place to learn free from violence.” These proposals limit the complaints that universities are required to handle, and thus make it less likely that those who commit sexual assault will face any punishment.
Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone (SAAFE) is a student-run organization at Wellesley College that, according to its website, works to “end interpersonal violence, support survivors, and serve as a liaison between survivors and administration.” Following the release of the controversial New York Times article, SAAFE invited Sonia Jurado, Wellesley’s new Title IX and 504 coordinator, to speak to interested students about the work she does at the college and about all of of the resources that are available to members of the campus community. The event was held on Tuesday, October 30 in the campus center.
Jaqueline Brinkhaus ’21, the President of Saafe, said in a statement to The Wellesley News, “We [SAAFE] thought it was particularly important to host this event because we have a new Title IX and 504 coordinator. We wanted to connect students with Sonia and give her a platform to talk about the changes she wants to see in the community.” She added, “This event was also really important to hold because of the discussion around sexual violence in the media over the past few months. We wanted to inform students about the support resources on campus and to start a dialog about what the New York Times article discussed.”
Jurado began the event by briefly explaining her role as the Title IX and 504 coordinator. She reiterated to the Wellesley News, “As Title XI coordinator, my focus is on issues of sexual misconduct. However, my office also deals with issues of discrimination based on other classifications such as race, religion, age, disability, gender, or identity/expression. As the ADA/Section 504 Coordinator, I handle grievances regarding disability accommodations.”
Members of SAAFE and Jurado decided that they wanted to event to be an interactive one. Rather than lecturing the group on issues such as Wellesley’s policies regarding sexual misconduct or Title IX, Jurado broke attendants into teams for a game of jeopardy.
One question that came up repeatedly during jeopardy is whether the Title IX Office automatically files an investigation after someone comes in to talk about an experience. Jurado told those in attendance that in most cases, the person who experienced the misconduct gets to decide whether they want the office to investigate. The only two exceptions to this rule are if the office has received multiple reports about the same person or if there is an immediate threat to the campus community.
Jurado indicated that she touched on this multiple times because, “There seems to be fear with having anything reported to the Title IX Office. This is not something that is unique to Wellesley, but generally, students are often concerned about what will happen if the Title IX Office learns about an incident. I really want to make sure students understand that they maintain a lot of control over what does and does not happen regarding their experience.” She added, “I want students to understand that they can come talk to me, get information and then can take the time they need to understand what, if anything, they want to do about this experience.”
Sarai Hertz-Velazquez ’22 is one of the students who attended the event. She felt that the most useful thing she learned during jeopardy is that “you get to decide how you want to go forward/if at all––actions regarding sexual assault reports are not taken unless you want them to be!”
After the game, Jurado opened the floor to student questions. During the question and answer session, several students expressed concern over the New York Times article and asked about the effects the Department of Educations’ proposals could have on college students across the country. Jurado reminded students that the information presented by the New York Times were only proposals that will likely change significantly before becoming policy. She also explained that the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education only serve as the minimum for what colleges and universities must do in handling reports of sexual misconduct.
Jurado stated, “Since the leaked draft regulations are not official, it is premature to really say what their impact might be. However, I am confident that any changes from the OCR [Office of Civil Rights] will not undermine Wellesley’s commitment to treating Title IX issues very seriously within our community.”
Overall, Brinkhaus believed that the event was successful in clearing up some of the misconceptions surrounding the Title IX Office; “I think the biggest take away from the Q and A session was that the Title IX office and the reporting process is different than what people think.” She added, “I think the Title IX Office under Sonia is a great resource for students trying to find more information and make informed decisions.”
Brinkhaus encourages interested students to participate in SAAFE at their own comfort level. The organization’s next event is titled “A Night Off” and will take place on Nov. 14. Brinkaus explained, “This event will allow students to relax, craft, and engage in self care activities. We will have confidential resources present. It is welcome to anyone in the community!”
Jurado urges those with additional questions about her office, student resources and reporting options to go to the Title IX page on Wellesley’s website or email her directly. She is also willing to schedule time to speak with other groups on campus; “I have only been at Wellesley since June of this year, and I welcome any opportunity to get in front of as many different groups as possible, so they can get to know me and learn more about the office.”