Debbie Colucci was recently hired as Wesleyan’s equity compliance director and deputy Title IX coordinator to advance equity and inclusion efforts on campus.
Debbie Colucci was recently hired as Wesleyan’s equity compliance director and deputy Title IX coordinator to advance equity and inclusion efforts on campus.

Perhaps no piece of legislation is more important on college and university campuses today than the 42-year-old Title IX. Not only does Title IX require institutions to consider gender equity across all programs, it is reshaping the way institutions approach the difficult problems associated with sexual assault and harassment. These days Title IX is often at the forefront of national discussion, but it wasn’t always so.


When the Title IX legislation was enacted on June 23, 1972, the statute made no reference to sports or athletics programs in educational institutions. Five years later, Congress saw that the law was having little impact. In response, Congress directed (through the Javits amendment) that implementation of the law focus on equal opportunity for men and women in athletics. That got noticed! For many years some institutions eliminated all-male programs to create gender balance, but that practice has diminished.


 Title IX promotes equal opportunities in career and technical programs that are traditionally male-dominated. Getting more women in these fields may be the key to closing the gender wage gap, since predominately female occupations pay lower wages than predominately male ones, and some progress has been made. It’s not all about women, however. The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces the law, is currently looking at the distribution of students in certain majors, such as nursing, where males are underrepresented. Although OCR’s resources are limited and mostly focused on sexual assault now, in the future it could pay more attention to equity in faculty staffing and student populations in particular majors. Wesleyan is vigorously seeking to assure broad representation in staff and faculty.


 The law provides protection for pregnant and parenting students. It stipulates that they have equal access to schools and activities, that all separate programs are completely voluntary, and that schools excuse absences due to pregnancy or childbirth for as long as deemed medically necessary. In other words, women cannot be penalized because they are pregnant. This has been an issue at large state schools.


 The law provides protection against harassment and bullying. Sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex discrimination in schools under Title IX, and much of what schools call “bullying” is actually prohibited harassment. Bullying in elementary and secondary schools has received a lot of attention, but the broader problem of harassment is ubiquitous, including gender-based bullying in the workplace.


 Survivors of sexual misconduct and assault are protected. Title IX requires universities to provide a prompt and equitable resolution of complaints, to investigate those complaints regardless of whether or not law enforcement is involved, to provide alternate housing, put no-contact orders in place, and provide counseling, medical, and academic support. In recent years Wesleyan has undertaken numerous measures to meet and exceed these requirements. Notably, the Office of Equity and Inclusion has reorganized under a new Vice President/Title IX Officer, Antonio Farias, who has hired a senior level Equity Compliance Director and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, and is developing institutional structures to ensure significant and sustained attention to Title IX issues. Educational and preventative programs are at the top of the agenda. Much more information is available on the website for the office.


 Grove City College v. Bell was a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Feb. 28, 1984, stating that Title IX applied only to programs that directly benefited from Federal funds. The decision significantly limited OCR’s jurisdiction in athletics programs. But on March 22, 1988, Congress effectively overturned the Grove City ruling, directing that Title IX applies to all operations of a recipient of Federal funds.


 After the Bush administration took office in 2001, substantial speculation arose about Title IX’s future. These concerns were fueled by the appointment of a commission charged with reviewing current law and recommending improvements in the law. Fears that enforcement of Title IX would become politicized along party lines, however, have so far proved to be unfounded.


 On August 4, 2004, the OCR issued a “Dear Colleague” letter. This document reminded institutions that Title IX regulations require schools to “designate a Title IX coordinator, adopt and disseminate a nondiscrimination policy, and put grievance procedures in place to address complaints of discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities.”


 On April 4, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights issued the Dear Colleague letter that got college campuses where we are today.  It clarifies that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Perhaps as a result of an accumulation of high-profile cases, the letter was distributed simultaneously to all college and university presidents, and it became a topic for national discussion that far exceeded any previous Dear Colleague letter. Since then, the role of Title IX in combatting sexual misconduct and assault on campus has grown significantly and received substantial media coverage.