• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2019 •
A young woman walking across a college campus after dark holds her keys in a tight grip knowing she might have to use them in self-defense. A female high school freshman is accosted by two popular upperclassmen girls because she seems “too manly.” Several gay freshmen know to stick together in the school hallway when the bell rings in case they get harassed by some of the jocks. A varsity basketball player brags to friends at an after-game party about having grabbed several cheerleaders and gotten away with it. When someone relays the bragging to the coach, the response is, “Boys will be boys.”
Does that mean that boys can abuse and harass girls because that’s the “natural” way human beings are? Is it acceptable that macho young men chastise gay young men? Is it acceptable that young women who consider themselves “straight” harass another young woman because she appears to be lesbian?
Race Equity – Gender Equity
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 made segregation and institutionalized racism illegal, recognizing how wrong they are and how damaging they are to large numbers of students in our schools. Many communities reacted with anger about the interruption of a racist pattern explained away by the assumption: “Whites will be Whites.”
This bias assumes one group is superior and that the two groups must be kept apart. The traditional way for human beings to be with each other in schools began to shift dramatically, and we are still working to achieve that integration and humane balance.
While the battle to give women the vote at the beginning of the 20th century addressed ballot-box segregation and injustice, it did not address gender inequity in other critical areas. Several decades after Brown vs. Board, the Title IX amendment to federal education policy in 1972 began to throw a comparable light on gender and sexual identification injustices in our schools. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in education.
The law states that girls must have the opportunities previously available only to boys. The relationships among young men and women had to be examined for patterns that supported abusers and inhibited victims from redress. The abuse and harassment of girls and women in schools requires vigilance, support and strong legal steps where necessary. It continues to be an under-reported issue. Victims are either afraid or embarrassed to report an incident. Perpetrators need a strong and consistent institutional response. Those who bring the issue to light need protection and encouragement rather than doubt over their accusations.
IDRA’s work with K-12 schools, such as through the IDRA EAC-South, equips them to prevent and respond to issues of bullying and harassment, including gender- and LGBTQ-related incidents. Schools must to be proactive in providing professional development for teachers to deal with these issues as they arise.
In higher education, there is much less involvement of professors in the lives of the students than in K-12 education. Young women and LGBTQ students, for example, are much more at risk of being abused, with less direct intervention and support from faculty and staff. The college atmosphere is a more fluid and less controlled context in unsupervised living quarters and social events, without the presence of parents or educators.
IDRA Response to Proposed Rule Changes
Currently, the U.S. Department of Education has proposed changes in the rules for how schools handle sexual assault allegations. IDRA does not support any proposed rule that reduces protection of those vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and that increases the freedom of abusers. Any loosening or softening of the rules and regulations around Title IX issues could open the flood-gates for abusive behaviors that have been stemmed, in part, by the evolution of Title IX guidelines.
During the public comment period, IDRA submitted a list of concerns based on our 45 years of working with educators, parents and children in underserved communities in Texas and across the nation. Our concerns include the following.
- The proposed changes to the definition of sexual harassment will make it harder for the people experiencing real, harmful harassment to seek help and redress. Instead of being able to report unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, students will have to endure harassment until it becomes “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,” a standard that will likely expose students to significant trauma and effectively deny them access to education in violation of Title IX.
- The trial-like process that has been proposed to address harassment complaints (allowing for cross-examination, access to evidence for the accused, party advisers, and creating a higher burden of proof) threatens to exacerbate trauma and runs counter to the purpose of Title IX, which was specifically designed to protect students from gender-based discrimination.
- The proposed changes will prevent schools from investigating off-campus harassment and will create strict and unnecessary reporting rules that may limit the ability of student survivors to report abuse.
See IDRA’s comments on the proposed Title IX changes
IDRA’s research and fieldwork around gender equity indicate that, overwhelmingly, the experiences and voices of girls and young women are minimized by a patriarchal mainstream culture that negates the contributions of women in education and leadership positions. Already, 63 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to police, and on college campuses specifically, more than 90 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported (NSVRC, 2015). Creating obstacles for victims to safely report grievances will only have a further chilling effect (see the CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2015).
Recommendations for Creating Safe Environments for All Students
IDRA’s comments listed a set of recommendations as well, including the following.
- Set clear, detailed and visible policies and procedures that systematically and explicitly detail what constitutes sexual harassment, sexual bullying, sexual misconduct, gender-based harassment and sexual abuse.
- Conduct environmental monitoring, creating a safe environment and culture that enlists everyone in assessing risk and identifying locations of potential risks.
- Establish clear, visible steps of where and who students can go to seek help and guidance, such as the Title IX campus coordinator or counselor.
- Create an environment and culture where students and educators alike will not fear retribution for speaking up.
- Train faculty and staff to ensure they know what to look for and how to respond.
School Technical Assistance
The IDRA EAC-South is one of the four federally-funded equity assistance centers designed to help school districts build capacity to confront educational problems occasioned by race, national origin, sex and gender, and religion. In addition to assisting schools and state agencies address issues related to sexual harassment and abuse, we provide training and technical assistance on:
- Underrepresentation of girls or students of color in advanced science and math courses.
- Overrepresentation of boys for school discipline, especially exclusionary disciplinary practices.
- A disparity in resources placed into male versus female sports.
- Bullying and harassment of students who have self-identified or are perceived as being LGBTQ.
- Other activities, programs and services that treat students differently and inequitably based on sex and/or gender.
More information and resources are online at www.idraeacsouth.org, where school leaders in the U.S. South can also request services.
Schools must be havens of safety and learning for all, but especially those for whom it has not been safe before. Clearly, this is a concern of many across the country as over 100,000 comments were submitted in response to the proposed Title IX rule changes. All students have a legal, moral and ethical right to be protected. Policies and practices must ensure this.
Learn more about the IDRA EAC-South
Going on five decades of success in helping schools, IDRA’s capacity-building technical assistance, training and professional development has assisted hundreds of schools and districts in addressing civil rights-related complaints and equity issues.
IDRA’s equity assistance center (EAC) provides free or low-cost technical assistance to schools in federal Region II: Washington, D.C., Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Fill out our intake form online to see how the IDRA EAC-South may best serve your school.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
IDRA. (2019). IDRA Lists Concerns with Proposed Amendments to Title IX Gender Equity Regulations, statement. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.
National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2015). Statistics about Sexual Violence.
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is an IDRA senior education associate and directs IDRA Education CAFE work. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2019 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]