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PARK: After 50 years of Title IX, we need to keep informing people about its purpose

Column: The Queue

The 50th anniversary of Title IX reminds us to commit to fighting for gender equity.  – Photo by Gayatri Malhotra / Unsplash

Junior year of high school was the first time my health teacher sat us down to watch “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses. As most public high school health classes go, there was little structure in the actual curriculum, so throughout my course of health classes in high school, I watched the film over three times.

“The Hunting Ground” follows two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumni who filed a Title IX complaint after poor response from UNC higher-ups in regard to their rapes. The film follows many students whose rape cases were quietly dealt with by their universities.

Its purpose was to bring awareness to the seriousness of sexual assault on campuses, and to say that it was effective would be an understatement. Watching the names of the colleges that my high school peers and I have chosen to attend, only days away from graduation, was a shock. This was my first time learning about Title IX and its policies.

It has been 50 years since the passing of Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, harassment and assault. It is known for not only encouraging the availability of girls' sports in schools but also for breaking down barriers and thwarting the potential for girls and women of being discriminated against in the workforce.

While I was exposed to and knowledgeable about Title IX before coming to college, it must be noted that not everyone else is, especially coming from a public high school and into a public university.

That is not to say that this law is perfect and used to its fullest potential. In April 2021, The Georgetown Voice released a piece exposing Title IX’s failure to protect students who experienced on-campus sexual violence. This kind of thing happens at nearly every college campus, regardless of whether the administration wants to admit it.

In 2020, Title IX was altered, and a multitude of changes was made. Institutions are now required to allow “cross-examination” of the reporting party, the reported party and any witnesses. Institutions are not obligated to respond to filed reports of off-campus locations if the incident occurred during a time where the location was used by the university's students — this includes fraternity and sorority houses.

But during former President Donald J. Trump's term, new policies were written to provide more protection for university administrators and officials in the case of being accused of harassment. In general, the alteration in 2020 blurred many lines in regards to Title IX, making it easier for institutions to ignore assault cases and emphasized the inconsistent protection of the survivors.

Filing a report under Title IX is a grueling process for many survivors. President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s administration has hazy plans to reverse the Title IX changes made by Trump’s administration, as he stated in his State of the Union speech that transgender students are protected under Title IX.

It was not until recently that I realized Title IX protects against much more than sexual assault. Prior to this, I had this negative perception of the law as I had only grown up hearing horror stories about how Title IX failed students and left many harassed and assaulted women complacently quiet.

On March 3, Gov. Kim Reynolds (Iowa-R) signed a law banning transgender girls and women from competing in sports as women. This extends from public and private institutions ranging from K-12 to a collegiate level. It is unfair that transgender individuals' rights are being infringed on, and this law only emphasizes the stereotype that women cannot play as well as men.

As a girl who grew up playing co-ed sports, I had little experience with gender-based discrimination, and I thought Title IX was a law that affected other people — not me.

Spending my practices sharing the lake or pool with both boys and girls only showed me that athleticism is based on physical ability but also on tenacity and grit. Each athlete deserves to be treated with respect and the opportunity to perform equally.

Title IX, since its passing in 1972, is meant to better the education experience for many. But its usage in terms of sexual assault and harassment reports is up to the discretion of many universities.

Under Title IX, schools are required to respond to any reports that cause a disruptive and potentially hostile environment, including any reports made by students, but the law is too broad. This allows many institutions to sweep assault reports under a rug.

Sexual misconduct is among the many reports universities get that are often put on the back burner and dismissed. My hope is that increased awareness of how this law actually works can prevent cases from being dismissed in the first place.

As a community, we should all be more educated on how this law works to benefit us as students whether that be directly or indirectly. For 50 years, Title IX has protected hundreds of people, while failing just as many. Its future can protect everyone from sexual violence and gender-based discrimination if its processes and laws are made clear and direct.

I am lucky to write that I have not had to file a report under Title IX on campus. But that is not the case for many others. It was not very long ago that we had our own investigations and our policies were debated by the students and staff.

In order to encourage positive change to Title IX, we as students must be informed about it. Teach it in classes and seminars, and make it a widely talked-about subject on social media, not just when something happens.

Annabel Park is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and minoring in journalism. Her column, "The Queue," runs on alternate Fridays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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