Always, ALWAYS, support first.
I cannot even express how many times I find that school districts and institutions are not offering the basic supportive measures to provide access to Complainants and Respondents in Title IX related matters. This may be because they aren’t aware, believe they “can’t”, are receiving internal pushback, or a variety of other reasons. However… regardless of the reason, it’s a problem.
This is me yelling from the rooftops! ACCESS to an individual’s education program or activity, free from discrimination, is the absolute fundamental basis of Title IX. SUPPORT provides that access. Seriously. That’s it. Support First. Okay, it’s not quite that easy, but I’m here to explain it. Let’s get to work!
When I say support first, I mean it both literally and figuratively. It should be the first thing that comes to your mind, the first action items to tackle, and support should remain at the forefront of your mind from start to finish. You must be willing to think creatively, develop systems, impact campus/district programs, move mountains, stand your ground, and stand up when the parties can’t advocate for themselves. All of this can be accomplished kindly, but firmly, within your institution or district. You should also do this discreetly, without disclosing the personal lives or issues of the parties you are working with.
If your students and employees are not supported through the process, the entire process may ultimately be ineffective. You may have parties leave, pre or during investigation, who if provided appropriate supportive measures, would otherwise have graduated from your district or institution. You may have others who want nothing more than to finish their education, without investigation or any type of process, but they can’t seem to do that because they are afraid, anxious, or struggling academically and socially because of a Title IX related concern.
Don’t get me wrong, the grievance process is important. However, it is complicated, and half the battle is helping parties navigate the complexities while continuing with their education.
So, you ask, how in the world do I provide “tailored” supportive measures for each individual? It takes a village. The good news is that you are the leader of that Title IX village. Here is a quick checklist to help you:
1. Get started: Start talking about supportive measures with staff and faculty. Make sure that the first time they hear you talking about supportive measures is NOT when you are trying to implement such measures!
- Explain Title IX.
- Explain the purpose of the law (access).
- Explain the requirement of supportive measures. What are they? Why would you ask for them?
- Explain that you likely will not be able to give details about the situation to protect the student or employee’s privacy.
- Explain what you may be asking for. Class changes, seating charts, re-taking of an exam or assignment, excused absences, virtual work/learning, work/learning from home, changes in living arrangements, financial aid waivers, parking changes, extracurricular changes.
- Explain that you may be asking for something that you haven’t even thought of yet, but that if you ask, it’s important.
2. Get Creative: In order to make the supportive measures work, you have to get creative. You are not the expert in all the things or programs. So do not try to be. Do not do this alone. Meet with teachers, directors, and staff to understand how their areas work when you are trying to support the students and employees they work with. Ask questions. Brainstorm together. Talk with the parties. Challenge yourself. This is not a one size fits all thing. Every single day, I learn new ways to support students and employees. It’s exhausting, but also empowering. This is a giant part of how you make a difference in the lives of the individuals going through the Title IX process. Your impact is critical.
3. Lead with CAN: How CAN we make this work? How CAN I provide this support? How CAN I make this change? I find that Title IX Coordinators often lead with (or are met with), “we can’t do that at this school” or “we don’t do that,” or even, “we only do that for disability accommodations.”
I have also found that if you meet with the person who is saying “no” or “that’s not how we have always done it” and provide them with the solution to make it work along with the basis for your request, you will be more successful. Don’t present someone with a problem without helping to find the solution. Don’t be afraid to ask again. Don’t be afraid to schedule a coffee to discuss it. Don’t be afraid to try. Honestly, your parties will appreciate you for that and realize that you aren’t out to get them, but instead help them…all of them.
Obviously, the support is not, nor should it be, dependent upon the outcome of an investigation, hearing or resolution. It occurs with or without the grievance process. Your job is to provide access in an equitable manner.
Done well, this is literally the most impactful part of Title IX. It is where you get to shine and help keep parties moving forward through a challenging time in their lives. Support first. You’ve got this!
Betsy Smith, Director of Title IX Services
ICS provides a wide range of Title IX compliance services; contact us for more information.