If a University of Tennessee student finds themselves a victim of sexual violence, where do they go?
This year, they can walk into the brand-new Title IX Office on Melrose Avenue and their report will be the first step in a process UT’s Title IX staff spent the summer trying to perfect.
The Title IX Office teamed up with the Chancellor’s Honors Program to familiarize students with the 2017 Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, Stalking and Retaliation by hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday night.
Title IX is the federal policy established in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on the sex or gender of students and employees at educational institutions that receive federal funding. This includes prohibition of sexual harassment or violence.
The 2017 fall semester is the first time in school there has been a stand-alone Title IX Office. It’s run by Ashley Blamey, the former director of the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness.
During the panel, Blamey explained that if a student experiences harassment or violence, the Title IX Office is where they should go.
How it Works
Blamey told the audience to start by thinking of UT as a town that contains up to 40,000 people on any given day.
“Given the size of our community,” Blamey said, “there are going to be people who are outside of our community values.”
When something happens to a student that falls outside of UT’s community values and is relevant to Title IX, the student can walk into the office and make a report.
From there, the student has three options. They can request limited action, report to the Office of Student Conduct or report to law enforcement.
Limited action measures include connections to medical care, counseling, communication with faculty and any arrangements that need to be made with housing, work or transportation. The Title IX Office can also issue a no-contact directive, which Blamey describes as “a line in the sand” that UT can issue to stop interaction between two University-affiliated parties.
“These [limited action] pieces are designed so that someone can continue to live their life,” Blamey said.
If a student chooses limited action, they have the right to request that their contact with the Title IX Office never be released, as well as the right to refuse to name the respondent.
If a student chooses to report to the Office of Student Conduct, the person they accuse will be investigated by the Office of Student Conduct.
Betsy Smith, director of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, who sat on the panel, explained that a school investigation looks different than criminal proceedings.
“We’re not looking to take away the life or liberty of an individual,” Smith said.
While a criminal court has to prove something took place “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the university has to prove something is “more likely than not.”
If the Office of Student Conduct meets that burden of proof, the accused person is subject to University discipline.
If a student chooses to report to law enforcement, a police investigation will take place with the goal of criminal prosecution in mind.
Blamey explained this process with a series of flowcharts and she reminded the audience “none of this is as simple as it looks on paper,” but the goal of the panel was to help students understand why the Title IX Office is here.
The Prevention Goals of Title IX
The main goal of the Title IX Office, as well as the Center for Health, Education, and Wellness (CHEW) is to prevent these incidents before they happen.
The process of prevention starts before new Vols even make it to campus. They take an online module the summer before their first semester and sit through a session on safety and consent at orientation.
“In Tennessee, some of our students have never had that conversation before,” Blamey said. “Some people say ‘you can’t educate to change this issue’ and I say ‘if that’s the case, we should all go home’.”
Once students are on campus, they can receive bystander training through CHEW’s Volunteers Speak Up program.
Blamey described Title IX issues as public health issues that all members of the campus community can work to prevent.
“Every single person in this room can help change this,” Blamey said. “If you are here, then you are part of the change.”
Title IX in 2017
Multiple students at the panel addressed concern over recent comments about Title IX investigations on campus made by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
While Blamey acknowledged that UT will have to take into account any future guidance that comes from the federal government, she reassured the students present that the procedures put in place at UT are here to stay.
“There is no concern, or shouldn’t be, that Title IX is going away,” Blamey said.
So far this semester, Blamey said things have been running more smoothly than before.
The Title IX Office has seen an increase in reports. Since getting its own building, more students have been walking in.
The new policies were made with the experiences of students who are victimized and students who are accused in mind, and the panel was an early-semester push to make students aware of what those policies are and what the Title IX Office does.
“We’re worked really hard…to be more clear, to make the language more accessible,” Blamey said.
“As far as our interactions with students, it feels much more thoughtful.”
Featured Image by Nima Kasraie, courtesy of Creative Commons
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo