MSU community shapes future Title IX efforts

At MSU, the entire campus community is helping to shape Title IX efforts.

Title IX is the federal law that states: “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.”

While the 1972 law may be best known for advancing equal opportunities for women in athletics, it also addresses sexual misconduct, including sexual violence, as a form of gender-based discrimination.

“We are committed to cultivating a safe and inclusive campus community that is free of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual/relationship violence,” said Jessica Norris, MSU’s Title IX coordinator. “And we realize in order to do that we must involve the whole community.”

Since the start of the 2015-2016 academic year, MSU has been collecting qualitative data from students, faculty and staff through focus groups and town hall meetings.

Led by the university’s Sexual Violence Advisory Committee and Violence Free Communities Committee, the effort includes seeking feedback on pressing concerns and climate issues, soliciting suggestions for improving the university’s responses to these concerns and issues, and asking for assessments of MSU support services and outreach and prevention efforts.

“We have gathered important insights that will allow us to focus future Title IX work on areas where we are likely to have the greatest impact,” said Amy Bonomi, chair of the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee. “The participation of people from throughout the university has been critical in identifying priority areas to continue improving campus climate, response and prevention efforts.”

The Sexual Violence Advisory Committee in April compiled its second year-end report and submitted it to Norris and President Simon.

The report summarized three priority areas that emerged from campus-wide conversations with students, faculty and staff:

  • Augment university communications
  • Continue investing in multi-dose learning/education/support services within the campus and community settings
  • Distribute responsibility across the campus community

In May, the Violence Free Communities Committee, which comprises service providers on campus, submitted recommendations around these themes. The recommendations include:

  • Enhancing communication with faculty, staff and students through new and existing channels
  • Conducting a campus-wide needs assessment to examine and understand the need for supplemental prevention programs such as those geared to male students, the Greek community, student-athletes, or faculty and staff.
  • Creating a communications subcommittee to assist with proactively sharing progress, information and events with the campus community.
  • Expanding collaboration with the MSU Center for Gender in a Global Context and the MSU Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence, such as working together to identify pressing institutional research needs that can support the university’s Title IX program.

“We look forward to continuing our conversations with students, faculty and staff,” said Tana Fedewa, co-chair of the Violence Free Communities Committee. “The purpose of Violence Free Communities is to support a campus culture free of relationship violence and sexual misconduct. We are confident that the increase in communication and collaboration will assist us in this mission.”

Norris is now working with the committees to turn the recommendations into concrete steps. These include:

  • Working with the committees and communications staff to develop communication and resource materials, increase social media presence, and identify additional communication channels.
  • Assessing prevention education needs as part of MSU’s Title IX external review.
  • Launching a new bystander intervention education program that will build upon programs focused on university students, and introduce an ancillary program to assist high school students in developing vital skills for college settings.
  • Working with stakeholders to plan MSU’s “It’s On Us” campaign, with the goal of broadly distributing and engaging responsibility across the campus community to improve climate, social norms, response and prevention.
  • Building collaboration with the MSU Center for Gender in a Global Context and the MSU Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence through increased committee representation and identification of collaboration opportunities through meetings in the fall semester.

“The committees did tremendous work in collecting systematic information from the campus community and recommending strategies,” Norris said. “They are playing a pivotal role in building a culture of caring and respect at MSU.”