At the beginning of this semester, I did two things that I’ve never done before in my over ten years of teaching college. First, I completed a mandatory training program on sexual harassment, assault, and violence. Then, I added a new section to my syllabus on Title IX, sexual assault, and students’ rights.
UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Duke, and NC State have all been in the news recently regarding the beefing up of their Title IX programs. What is Title IX? It’s a law prohibiting discrimination in education — including sexual violence and sexual harassment based on protected status – and relates to national awareness of universities’ underreporting incidences of rape and sexual violence. Duke and Wake Forest Universities recently appointed their first ever full-time Title IX Coordinators, while UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State both introduced new sexual assault and sexual violence training modules.
And not a moment too soon. UNC-Chapel Hill currently faces three separate investigations by the Department of Education regarding underreporting of sexual assaults and fostering a hostile environment for reporting sexual violence. Two of the women filing the complaint, Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, are featured in the recently premiered documentary The Hunting Ground, which shines a spotlight on UNC-CH and other universities who failed to respond appropriately to campus rapes.
But how effective can a training or instructional video be at helping to prevent sexual harassment, violence, and assault?
For myself, I found the training to be more informative than I thought it would be; it clarified specific policies and highlighted resources in place, while also being up front about exactly what to do in the event of an incident. To be reminded that I have rights, that my students have rights, and that we all have recourse to action sends a strong message.
And I decided to send a message of my own. After reading an article by UNC-CH graduate student and advocate Nadia Dawisha, I added a new section to my syllabi, informing students of the Title IX policy and letting them know about the resources available to them on campus. It’s not much, but, as Dawisha writes, the words have power: “Survivors have the information needed, and the campus community as a whole is watching and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
Every time I see a new report of campus rape in the news, I am increasingly incensed by the culture of complicit violence fostered by so many colleges and universities. Now, at least, we are hearing about it and talking about it. Let all of our voices be heard: this shall not stand. These universities are taking steps toward accountability; I for one will be working with them while continuing to hold them accountable.
Melissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.