Title IX Office announces changes

A new director, a student-oriented sexual health educational fellowship and a pilot program for the theology department highlight the developments.

Kate Lawson, Riley Head, Father Michael Graham, president, Daniel Bowling and Derek Adkins all played a role in the development of a new Title IX Program Director as well as education pilot programs.

Six years after Title IX Officer Kate Lawson began her Xavier career, she is getting a partner: a new Title IX Program Director. The director will focus on prevention and education efforts as they relate to gender-based violence and Title IX affairs.

The announcement of the new position comes after a summer that included research conducted by juniors Riley Head and Derek Adkins and senior Daniel Bowling as well as an Enquirer article about sexual assault on campus that featured Lawson and Father Michael Graham, president. Both Lawson and Graham feel that the new position is the culmination of efforts from all aspects of campus to change the culture surrounding gender-based violence, including the recent work from Head, Adkins and Bowling.

“One of the things that we knew was going to happen as (Lawson) engaged her work is that reporting rates were going to go up, which would give her more work to do,” Graham said, “and that’s a good thing. When people are reporting more, it means they trust the system, they know what to do, they can label as wrong that which has happened to them and so on.”

Lawson added that the partnerships formed between her office and the rest of campus, especially student leaders, combined with the leadership from Graham and the Board of Trustees, allowed for an increase in reporting.

“We really have been able to establish Xavier as a leader on Title IX and gender-based violence response, which…has really led to this sea change in our culture, where we’re significantly decreasing barriers to reporting and students are accessing advocacy and support services in a way that, really, we haven’t seen,” Lawson said.

Because of the increases in reporting, however, Lawson has been unable to spend more time on the prevention and education side, which is where the new director will come in. The position will entail promoting gender-based violence goals as stated in the university’s diversity and inclusion strategic plan and directing gender-based violence prevention and education programming. The director will also assist the office with investigative work as needed.

Beyond these duties, the director will focus on being a resource for gender-based violence education and sexual health efforts across campus, which was the focus of the students’ summer research.

Head explained that in their conversations with students, faculty and staff, they found a lack of connection among groups or programs dedicated to gender-based violence and similar issues. One of their conclusions, therefore, was the need for a director to act as that connecting piece.

“There’s all of these amazing initiatives…but they’re all so siloed,” Head said. “That’s one of the biggest goals for the prevention director, is that they will be that streamlined communication source, that even if somebody needs to be talking to somebody else, that prevention director can connect those people in communication, so that it’s not just people doing their best in their individual communities but that it’s more of a Xavier-wide effort.”

In addition to the new director, two more initiatives are set to roll out within the year: first, a fellowship dedicated to healthy sexual decision-making, and second, a pilot program within the theology department to bring the issue into classrooms.

The fellowship will consist of a group of junior-senior partnerships that will engage students individually and through connecting groups like Xavier Students Against Sexual Assault or committees like It’s On X. The fellows will work under the director but will enjoy a level of autonomy in that they will determine how to approach the topic of sexual health.

“Part of that would be talking about healthy relationships, planning programming to talk about safe dating, talking about what consent looks like, how to safely have sex,” Head said, “and that’s what we’ve been kind of talking about. When we interview students, when we select students, when they’re partnered for the senior-junior partnership, (we will be) finding what works best for them, what are their passions, what are their interests, so that they can do their best work, instead of us telling them, ‘This is what you need to focus on.’”

Lawson emphasized the importance of having these peer-to-peer connections and conversations.

“I think it’s important for students to hear from people my age, perhaps, or in my position, about these topics, but it does not resonate or have nearly the impact we want unless it’s peer-led conversations,” Lawson said. “So we’ve really talked about the value of having the student fellows…working with the Title IX Director to…as a polit program, determine what makes sense, what should we be tackling this first year…and matching the focus with the student interest.”

Interested students will apply and undergo interviews before being selected. Both the Title IX Office as well as Head, Adkins and Bowling will be involved in this process. In addition, Graham has agreed to offer financial support to the fellows, modeled after the current program involving sustainability interns on campus.

The second initiative is an educational pilot program for the theology department. The program will provide lesson plans and resources for professors to speak about gender-based violence and the issues surrounding it. The new director will oversee the program.
Adkins said their goal is to engage students who might not otherwise tackle these kinds of topics.

“What a lot of the student organizations and student groups on campus are doing around gender-based violence and prevention are great, but they really tend to only attract students that care about these issues already,” Adkins said. “Our goal is to reach students who may not care about this issue or may not have a passion for it and to reach them and to get them to at least start having conversations about it…even if that’s just in the 50 minutes that they’re in class, but hopefully that will extend outside the classroom, among friend groups.”

The students would also like to see the program expand beyond theology into other departments like philosophy, English and even math or business.
Ultimately, with the new director, the fellowship and the pilot program, Head and Lawson expressed that they see an opportunity to reach survivors of gender-based violence on campus.

“Being aware that these human beings exist in this space and that we need to be conscious and loving towards them is what I’m most excited to see,” Head said, “because I think it’s something that can easily fall into the background and because it’s something you can easily identify in a #MeToo movement or a Bill Cosby story or something national, but (recognizing) that these people sit next to you in class and they live next to you in the dorm rooms, I think, is powerful.”

Adkins added that the changes will also address moral relativism, which he said is prevalent among students.

“I think it’s really easy for students on this campus and in general, students at any college campus, to say, ‘Look, that’s fine. I do me, you do you, I’m not going to get involved in that, it doesn’t affect me,’” Adkins said. “I think it’s really important for students to recognize that this issue really does affect everyone on this campus.

“It touches every person in some way, whether it’s direct or indirect, and so I think that it’s really important that students on our campus realize that it really is on us to change our culture.”

Bowling agreed and added that the changes promote sustainability.

“Various passions with other social issues can run together, so centralizing this issue here on campus and uniting all those people really allows for a more sustainable vision of changing culture on campus,” Bowling said. “It allows us to progress at a much faster rate.”

Graham concluded by saying that the changes both indicate a shift in the campus climate as well as provide an opportunity for future development.

“What we’re doing is mapping out concrete, specific steps we’re going to take,” Graham said. “…Then a couple years down the road, we’ll be somewhere we aren’t now and then can ask questions about what’s next.

“But I think we’re in a really fruitful period right now. Looking back gives us an opportunity to look forward in a way that we simply haven’t had before.”

By: Ellen Siefke | Editor-in-Chief