The Title IX Office, Counseling Services and student organizations aim to prevent sexual and gender discrimination and violence
Throughout the school year, Worcester State students, faculty and staff can take part in a variety of student and staff-led campus trainings and awareness programs centered on the prevention of sexual discrimination, gender discrimination and sexual violence. And if a person experiences these harms, the University’s Title IX office is there to provide support, resources, and guidance.
The work to end sex and gender based discrimination and violence among college students is one of the legacies of Title IX—landmark legislation that transformed college campuses across the United States. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX. While it is broadly hailed for establishing equity in college athletics, Title IX has expanded over the last five decades to shine a bright light on discrimination, sexual assault, and gender equity at colleges and universities.
At Worcester State, the Title IX office offers support to students who have experienced sex-based discrimination or sexual violence, investigates complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and alongside Counseling Services and the SAVE task force, conducts trainings and campaigns to raise awareness of the law and the resources available to members of the Worcester State community. Anyone—faculty, staff, student—who feels they have experienced sexual misconduct or encountered discrimination based on sex, gender expression, or sexual orientation can go to the Title IX coordinator for assistance.
“Before Title IX was extended to sexual violence,” says Sarah Valois, coordinator of sexual violence response and prevention and assistant director of Counseling Services, “criminal procedure was the only option.” That process may take years and means students might have to attend classes with their perpetrators while waiting for court dates. The Title IX process gives students a campus-specific option and allows the University to take steps to keep perpetrators and survivors separate.
Consent and Communication
Alongside the Title IX efforts, student groups are working to raise awareness among their peers. Senior biology major Olivia Wright is serving her second term as president of the university’s chapter of “It’s On Us,” a nationwide program that seeks to build a movement to end sexual assault by getting all students, including young men, involved.
“Consent and communication are key to all relationships in life,” said Wright.
The message of consent is at the heart of every event Wright helps organize. A lot of students are getting inaccurate and potentially harmful ideas about what is considered acceptable in sexual encounters from movies, television, pornography, and other media, she explains. In many of those media, consent is not presented properly, if it is presented at all.
“Assault happens sometimes because a person didn’t know they were crossing a boundary,” Wright said. Therefore, it’s vital to continually check in with intimate partners to make sure everyone is okay and comfortable. “I don’t think we can prevent all assaults by talking, but that’s where things need to start.”
Individuals age 18–24 are at the highest risk for sex-based discrimination and sexual violence. While college-age men do face barriers, women are at much higher risk for these issues. Women of color experience these issues at a higher rate than white women, and transgender students experience these issues at an even higher rate. Because of these inequities, women and sexual minorities are at greater risk for mental health concerns that can make it hard to finish their education. Worcester State’s Title IX office has seen an uptick in gender -based discrimination, specifically gender identity, says Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Quinn.
The Title IX Office can offer students a variety of support measures – counseling referrals, helping with students on criminal proceedings if they wish, helping arrange no contact and no trespass orders, and helping students change their work schedule or residence hall to avoid being in a situation in which they feel unsafe. Students can also access academic support such as arranging excused absences, late withdrawals and late drops, or extensions on papers and exams. Quinn’s office provides support for survivors even when the perpetrator is not part of the Worcester State community. Between June 30 2021 and July 1 2022, the Title IX office put into place 196 supportive measures, of which 118 were academic accommodations.
The nature of the support the Title IX Office provides is led by the complainant. Working with the police and pursuing a criminal case can sometimes make survivors feel uncomfortable, Quinn says, so she works with students to help them navigate that process—or to find alternatives.
Other alternatives may include support from Worcester State Counseling Services which offers a confidential space on campus for students to consider their reporting options and resources, seek crisis intervention or engage in safety planning. The department also offers individual therapy and group meetings for survivors to come together for support and help with coping.
Giving survivors options is something Quinn emphasizes. In the Understanding Title IX and Trauma Informed Approach training Quinn and Valois present regularly to staff and faculty, they stress the importance of not pressuring students into pursuing charges or having their name attached to a formal complaint. “Someone in a Title IX situation had a choice taken away from them at some point,” Quinn says. “That’s the last thing we want to do to them.”
In addition to providing support and accommodations for survivors of sexual violence, the Title IX office has also taken numerous steps to help prevent sexual violence. Online sexual violence prevention and education modules are required for all first-year students and student athletes, and the SAVE task force, co-chaired by Valois and Quinn coordinates much of the University’s prevention and education programming.
The Sexual Assault and Violence Education (SAVE) Task Force, includes staff, faculty, students and administrators and is committed to cultivating a vibrant campus life in which all members of the Worcester State community feel welcomed, included, respected, empowered, and valued. Through campus-wide programming, training, and resources, the task force helps to provide a safe, healthy, and supportive campus climate, free of sexual and relational violence. Since their establishment, they have run yearly awareness campaigns; developed a pocket resource guide with information on seeking medical attention, knowing your reporting options, and speaking to a counselor; facilitated classroom workshops on bystander intervention and healthy relationships and organized the required first year student theater program which highlights methods students can use to intervene if they witness sexual violence or other harmful behaviors.
Many of these efforts are led by students like Wright. Interactive events like Consent and Cookies, which provided cookies for students to decorate and gave students a space to write down red flags and green flags in relationships, and Denim Day, which gave students the opportunity to be part of a photo shoot to show their support for survivors of sexual violence have drawn dozens of students. Through these events, Wright hopes to provide a space where students can talk with their peers and not be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. She also hopes to make students aware of the resources that are available to them.
Wright hopes to see more male-identifying students, resident assistants, student athletes, LGBTQ+ students, and people of color at events. “Worcester State campus is diverse,” she said. “We aim to keep all students safe, and everyone’s safety is prioritized.” And she hopes that, as awareness about these issues increases, education will start sooner. “It’s great that we address these things in college, but we’re playing catch-up,” she says. “We’re trying to educate people on things they should have been learning a lot earlier.”
Throughout its 50-year history, Title IX has seen multiple changes, expanding or relaxing the expectations mandated for schools. During the Obama administration, the 50-plus-page “Dear Colleague” letter laid out explicit guidelines for institutions. The Trump administration overhauled the way institutions were expected to handle complaints of sexual misconduct. In June 2022, the Biden administration announced sweeping changes to Title IX that would expand protections for LGBTQ+ students.
Sometimes the changing regulations create obstacles. Last academic year, Quinn’s office received 75 Title IX reports, most from students, most related to dating and domestic violence or sexual assault and sexual harrassment, and most of incidents that happened off campus.
“Under the Obama administration,” Quinn says, “we could investigate an incident that occurred off campus; under the Trump administration’s rules we cannot.” The challenge for Quinn is to find ways to support students and utilize the University conduct system when she’s not able to open a Title IX investigation.
Despite the challenges, Quinn, Valois, and their teams continue to make students needing support their priority. “I think we do a good job,” Valois said, “especially compared to other campuses. But there is always room for improvement. The work is to continue to educate and empower students to understand their rights and options, and ultimately prevent these situations from occurring.”
Students who have experienced sexual misconduct, dating/domestic violence, gender based discrimination or harassment, stalking or retaliation can make a Title IX report at email@example.com or by submitting this electronic form. Additional reporting options and resources can be found here.
This story is the second of a two-part series on the 50th Anniversary of Title IX. Read part one about Title IX’s impact on women’s athletics at Worcester State: On anniversary of Title IX, Worcester State making progress with women’s athletics
Deborah Alvarez O’Neil contributed to this story.
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