I am headed home from Napa, California, where I’ve spent the last couple days attending and presenting at the annual conference of the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA). It’s been an amazing conference. I’ve learned so much–from the opening keynote speaker, Emily Bazelon, journalist and author of a new book about bullying, to panels on Clery and Campus SaVE Act compliance (more in a future post) (presented by ATIXA attorneys), decriminalizing university responses to sexual assault (Nancy Chi Cantelupo), and sticky issues when harassment and assault occur off-campus or involve third-parties (Joni Baker). But I think the show-stoppers were Alexandra Brodsky and Dana Bolger, two student leaders in the Know Your IX campaign, who were our closing keynote today. Know Your IX is informing and supporting students across the country addressing campus sexual assault. Students associated with Know Your IX have been involved in several of the high-profile complaints to OCR about various colleges insufficient responses to sexual assault.
I liked many things about Brodsky and Bolger’s presentation. First, by chance, they happened to be speaking to us within hours of a major milestone for Know Your IX, the launching of their excellent website. One issue we conference attendees had been discussing was the importance of conveying clear information to students about victims rights and resources. Colleges and universities have a knack for putting information on websites that are counterintuititve and difficult to navigate. It was terrific to see in their website an example of clear and straightforward dissemination of this kind of information.
Another thing I liked was their insistence that when we talk about sexual assault on college campuses, we actually talk about the culture of sexism that creates the environment for it to happen. Brodsky, who is from Yale, gave the now well-known examples of the sexist fraternity chants (“no means yes…”) to illustrate the point that a culture of sexism is the basis for a culture of assault. Rape prevention, therefore, isn’t just a matter of telling girls to use the buddy system and guard their drinks at parties. It’s about addressing—and changing–a culture that allows women to be demeaned and objectified.
Lastly, I appreciated their acknowledgment that Know Your IX is not representative of female student survivors of, and those who are threatened by, sexual assault. They were keenly aware that the white, straight, and economically privileged public face on the recent efforts to challenge university’s failures to address sexual assault runs the risk of rendering invisible sexual assault that affects women of color, queer women, or that occurs on less prestigious campuses. The fact that the Know Your IX website addresses intersectionality head on, with sections on “dealing with intramovement racism” as well as sections for religious survivors and those likely to confront homophobia as survivors, is a good first step towards ensuring Know Your IX becomes a meaningful resource for, and movement of, diverse women.
ATIXA did well to close the conference with the perspective of students whose lives have been affected by sexual assault and whose activism is changing the landscape of Title IX compliance. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference!