Jillian Kurtz

This article is the first part of a three-part series about Title IX. The separate parts explain how Title IX legislation plays a part from the national stage all the way down to our Title IX office and resources on campus, to Florida Southern organizations and student perspectives. 

As a way to set up the stage, the first part of this series is about the creation and history of Title IX. In order to understand the implications and actions of how the legislation plays a part on our own campus, it is imperative that students, faculty and staff are aware of how this piece of legislation was created, has changed and how it continues to change. 

[Click here to read Part 2: A look at Florida Southern’s policy and resources.]

Part 1: History and Changes to Title IX 

According to The U.S. Department of Education, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. 

Title IX states that: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity freceiving Federal financial assistance.

Throughout most of its early history, Title IX opened doors for females to have access to higher education institutions and opportunities within, with a large focus on athletics. The federal regulation under Title IX remained largely focused on intercollegiate athletics until 2011 when sexual harassment became the controversy at hand. 

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague Letter” that was the first official statement regarding sexual harassment in the context of Title IX stating that “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”

“We are the first administration to make it clear that sexual assault is not just a crime, it can be a violation of a woman’s civil rights,” then Vice President Biden said to students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham in regards to the new additions to the federal law.

In the “Dear Colleague Letter” from 2011, the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama Administration urged institutions to better investigate and adjudicate sexual assault cases on their respective campuses. There was pushback from the letter due to some language that was used, not being certain whether this letter was just a suggestive piece or actually “carry the force of the law,” as said by a letter from Senator James Lankford. 

The ideas Lankford stated in his letter resonated with many, with those ideas eventually leading to Betsy DeVos, the Former United States Secretary of Education, rescinding the 2011 guidance in 2017 and then implementing the August 2020 updates to the Title IX legislation. 

In May 2020, DeVos, released a statement regarding changes to “Strengthen Title IX Protections for All Students,” the headline read. 

“This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues,” DeVos said in the statement. 

The list of the Key provisions of the Department of Education’s new Title IX regulation can be read here. The action of “final rule” was effective August 14, 2020. 

In A Rule by the Education Department on 05/19/2020 under the section “Anonymous Reporting and Anonymous Filing of Formal Complaints,” 

“The written notice of allegations under § 106.45(b)(2) must include certain details about the allegations, including the identity of the parties, if known.”

Under § 106.30, a formal complaint is defined as “a document filed by a complainant or signed by the Title IX Coordinator alleging sexual harassment against a respondent and requesting that the recipient investigate the allegation of sexual harassment.

The phrase “document filed by a complainant” means “a document or electronic submission (such as by electronic mail or through an online portal provided for this purpose by the recipient) that contains the complainant‘s physical or digital signature, or otherwise indicates that the complainant is the person filing the formal complaint.”

With this understanding, an anonymous report cannot be investigated without a complainant’s signature. In Devos’ additions, she emphasized the importance of “due process” along with “a presumption of innocence” for the accused. When it comes to reporting a sex crime, this can hinder how victims want to go about the reporting proccess.

DeVos’ definition of sexual harassment only includes conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.” The Obama-era definition of “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” goes further and should be restored, according to future-ed.org

On March 8, 2021 President Joseph Biden signed an Executive Order that expands on Title IX which now clarifies guaranteeing an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity. 

As Title IX continues to change with each administration, it is imperative that students stay informed on changes so that they are able to get and provide support as needed.

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