One morning in the late 1960s, U.S. Representative Edith Green, who served the state of Oregon from 1955 to 1975, simply wanted to take a dip in the House’s pool. To her surprise, a male senator was paddling around in the waters — completely nude.
Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina ran into a similar issue more than four decades later. When she went to swim in the Senate’s pool, she was told it was reserved for men only, so the male senators could swim naked. The year was 2008.
Men aren’t allowed to swim naked in the House and Senate pools anymore (thanks to Senator Chuck Schumer), and it bears mentioning that significant progress in gender equality has been made since the 1960s. That progress could not have happened, however, without people like Representative Green.
Green championed and co-sponsored the Title IX amendment, which 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 receiving Federal financial assistance.” President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law in 1972.
Although it extends well beyond athletics, most people know of Title IX for its influence on women’s sports. There’s a good reason for that, too: At least in part because of the amendment, the number of female athletes in college has increased from 295,000 in 1972 to more than 2.6 million today.
In more recent decades, Title IX has had a dramatic influence on how universities handle sexual assault awareness, prevention, and survivor care. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, for example, have pushed Title IX enforcement since the beginning of their terms.
“We will have succeeded when not a single woman who is violated ever, ever asks herself the question, ‘What did I do?’” said Biden at a speech for the White House United State of Women Summit in June. “We will have succeeded when not one man who raises a hand or takes a violent action against a woman is able to say with any credibility in his own mind, ‘Well she deserved it.'”
Biden’s speech was a reiteration of the core values of his It’s On Us white house campaign:
It’s on us: to recognize non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
Along with the White House campaign, the Office of Civil Rights leads Title IX investigations into how institutions handle sexual violence on campus.
In this era of enforcement, the federal government has led 310 Title IX investigations on college campuses. Fifty-one of them have been resolved, and of the remaining active cases, five are local: three at University of Chicago, one at University of Illinois at Chicago, and one at Columbia College. There are no active Title IX investigations at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) — although SAIC’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report shows four sexual assaults in 2014, with three of them occurring on campus.
In an email exchange with F Newsmagazine, the new deputy Title IX coordinator at SAIC, Dawn Henson, said she felt confident in the school’s steady enforcement of Title IX.
“At SAIC, we have strong policies and procedures in place to address sexual assault and to provide a fair process for students, faculty, and staff. … I believe our most important task is to provide safe zones for students to raise concerns about unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature,” Henson said.
The status-quo strategies that many universities use to combat sexual violence, however, have been criticized in recent years. These debated strategies include the use of risk-reduction tactics, such as the traditional advice of attending and leaving parties in groups and keeping one’s drink in sight at all times; and the term “Red Zone,” which delineates the first several weeks of the fall semester as the most dangerous for incoming freshmen.
“I think the whole notion of the ‘Red Zone’ brings up a long-standing controversy about the role of risk reduction as a strategy to combat sexual assault on college campus (or anywhere actually),” said Dr. Claire Draucker, an Angela Barron McBride endowed professor in Mental Health Nursing at Indiana University, who has written several books about the subject.
Dr. Draucker noted that teaching common sense risk reduction to students isn’t the problem, but becomes problematic when it’s done without a more comprehensive approach. Risk reduction strategies then “shift responsibility for preventing sexual assault to the person who is targeted, and recuse the perpetrator and the institution from responsibility,” as Draucker put it.
Although pointing to narrow approaches of risk reduction, Draucker made clear she thought progress was being made.
“I do think the Title IX suits have the potential to bring about institutional change and increased awareness. These suits have forced colleges to reexamine their policies and have exposed how poorly colleges have traditionally dealt with the problem — especially in protecting students who report sexual assault and investigating complaints,” she said.
Students, faculty, and staff can visit SAIC’s Stop Sexual Violence website for more information on the resources available for survivors of sexual assault.