Title IX: UMR works to increase reporting of sex-based crimes
Kris Barry, a member of the Title IX team at UMR, details processes the university has implemented to destigmatize reporting discrimination based on sex, which is prohibited in higher education by Title IX.
ROCHESTER — Title IX is more than sports.
The law, passed with the Education Amendments of 1972, prevents gender discrimination across all aspects of education.
Because of its importance, many colleges and universities across the nation have offices or certain employees tasked with making sure the school stays in compliance. At the University of Minnesota Rochester, Kris Barry is one of four people that make up the university’s Title IX team.
Barry, the director of health and wellbeing, acts as a resource to students seeking guidance through the process of reporting a Title IX complaint. The office responds to reports of sexual violence, sexual harassment, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence and other instances of crimes that rise to the level of sex-based discrimination.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Education expanded its definition of sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Universities across the country have been subject to scrutiny when it comes to responses, or lack thereof, to sexual violence and discrimination on campuses. In the case of UMR, the numbers for on and off-campus sexual assaults haven’t been updated for the 2020-2021 school year.
When data has been filed, the school reports just a small handful of instances of sex-based violence. Even for a small school with a total enrollment of about 1,000 students, the number is low when compared to other similarly sized schools, given smaller schools tend to have higher reporting rates .
In 2019, the school reported one instance of stalking on campus, and no other instances of violence against women. Official statistics like this force campus officials like Barry to acknowledge the underreporting of violent sexual offenses, and attempt to fix the problem. Underreporting of such crimes is not unique to campus life and is a widespread issue across society.
“Historically, there's some really high-level cases that universities didn't respond appropriately to,” Barry said. “They didn't respond quickly enough. They didn't follow through, things got delayed, or were not reported in the way they should have.
“We have done a lot to ensure that that process is smooth, that as soon as a report is made, it is handled in an incredibly timely way. And all of this, I think, is supporting this concept of Title IX,” Barry said. “It's all about equal access, and ensuring that everybody has equal access to classes to participate in the university or college experience. With that in mind, I think we're trying to pull down and recognize all the different barriers that would prevent somebody from being able to do that.”
UMR uses both formal and informal processes to address student complaints.
The traditional Title IX complaint process is a formal hearing in front of a board, which critics say can retraumatize a student by requiring the student to explain to a board of people the violence committed against them at the formal hearing.
More frequently used is the school's informal process, which Barry said works for students who just want an accommodation and a way to distance themselves from the person doing the harm. Another option is to send a letter to the person who did the harm.
“We’ll have a student say, ‘I don’t want anything, but I do want this person to know that they did harm to me, that this happened,’” she said.
The Title IX process for dealing with complaints and incidents isn’t without its faults, but Barry says it is less of a result of the function of the law and more a reflection on society’s views of sex-based discrimination and its response to violence against women.