JAMS ADR Blog by Chris Poole
Attending a college or university is an opportunity to join a community comprised of people from different walks of life. Title IX is the federal law that makes it illegal for any government-funded institution to discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex. This includes all educational programs and activities. The goal is to have a level playing field for all. Correspondingly, the Title IX process must be inclusive and open. A process that is not perceived as fair or one that is steeped in institutional bias leaves the participants with an empty remedy, and in this context, perception is as important as reality.
For many, campuses of higher education institutions are where students will develop their identities. Becoming a productive citizen requires being exposed to different ideas and opinions, interacting with people of different races and backgrounds, and, often, being placed in unfamiliar or even uncomfortable situations. Not everyone matures at the same rate, and some will stumble in ways not predicted by their educational attainment. Against this background, opportunities on campus should be meted out evenly. Any framework created to protect certain members of the community and to address infractions against those members should be based on fairness, integrity and transparency. Issues such as sexual assault, harassment and discrimination must be seen through a lens that encompasses the makeup of the surrounding community.
By the very nature of the purpose of the process, it is of absolute necessity that there be diversity at every level of the process. There are three main reasons why.
First, students should be exposed to new and diverse ideas and perspectives through encounters with professors, other students and members of the community. College exists to prepare people to think outside of their own experiences and beyond themselves. A Title IX process that is not inclusive in its implementation of the law, rules and spirit of collegiality is inconsistent with the very environment higher education seeks to provide in the campus setting.
Second, the Title IX process should be truly neutral, not neutral in a “just the facts” manner, but neutral in the sense that the process seeks the truth of the interaction to determine whether it violates the campus’ legally proscribed conduct. Having people with diverse voices and backgrounds as part of the process signifies that the rules apply equally to everyone. It gives people a sense that the outcome is not just consistent with a particular rule or pronouncement, but that it aligns with what is fair.
Finally, diversity has an effect on outcomes. Everyone appreciates an objective outcome, one that is free of bias, whether conscious or unconscious. For example, if the Title IX hearing administrators, investigators and staff reflect the composition of the student body, then the participants can see themselves in all levels of the process. If the goal is for everyone to respect the outcome, then they must be able to recognize fairness and justice in every case. This is where inclusion can have the biggest impact.
JAMS understands the importance of helping institutions manage, resolve and prevent conflict. Our solutions for higher education are grounded in fairness, neutrality and trust.