Title IX, the U.S. law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, has received widespread media attention in recent years because of its application to issues of sexual violence on college campuses. Title IX’s applicability to theological education has received less coverage, though it was the topic of a session at the Association of Theological Schools’ Student Personnel Administrators meeting earlier this year. Nevertheless, the legal and missional implications of the Title IX regulations matter deeply to both seminary boards, presidents, and other leaders.
So what is Title IX and what do you need to know about it?
Title IX in a nutshell
Part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any federal financial assistance must comply with it. According to Tom Tanner, a director of accreditation and institutional evaluation at the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), nearly three-fourths of ATS-accredited schools receive federal financial assistance and are, therefore, subject to Title IX regulations. Section 2.7 of the ATS General Institutional Standards requires that “institutions participating in U.S. federal student financial assistance programs...comply with prevailing government regulations regarding these programs.”
Does Title IX apply to seminaries? Although Title IX generally prevents any discrimination on the basis of sex, there is a religious exemption, covered in section 106.12 of the 1972 law, for which seminaries may apply.
To request a religious exemption, the highest-ranking official of the institution must send a letter to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights explaining two things:
All institutions remain accountable for the remainder of Title IX regulations from which they are not exempt. If they are out of compliance, the consequences for the institution may be significant — including the potential revocation of federal funds.
How has Title IX changed in recent years?
Since the 1990s, Title IX has been augmented to address not just general discrimination but also sexual violence. This movement began back in 1990 with the passage of the Clery Act, which requires schools that receive financial aid funding to disclose campus crime and security information. Title IX compliance is also shaped by the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which first established federal legal definitions of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and established an Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
In 2001, the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education stated that schools must ensure that employees know how to respond to and report complaints of harassment. A decade later, the same office recommended that all schools implement preventive education as part of their orientation programs for new students, faculty, and staff. This training should include a discussion of definitions, an outline of policies and procedures, and a clear statement of consequences for perpetrators.
Two years later, the 2013 Campus SaVE Act amended the Clery Act to mandate “primary prevention and awareness programs” about sexual misconduct and related offenses. Finally, in 2014 it was determined that schools must report compliance with the Campus SaVE Act in annual security reports.
The roles of presidents and board members
Successful implementation of Title IX policies and procedures requires not just following federal regulation but also knowing applicable state laws concerning discrimination and harassment. Rather than relying solely on long-established procedures, boards may seek up-to-date information about compliance from their campus Title IX coordinator. Tom Tanner of ATS also recommends that a school consult with legal counsel about Title IX implications.
Yet it’s not just for legal reasons that a president or board should be informed about Title IX. There’s also the responsibility of ensuring the missional alignment of all aspects of the seminary life. What type of campus culture is being fostered? Princeton Theological Seminary’s Title IX coordinator, Victor Aloyo Jr., explained this missional perspective in a letter to the Princeton Seminary community. He wrote:
In our context, issues of discrimination, harassment, and assault go beyond the legal parameters as established by federal mandates. God intends that all human beings enjoy a full life, free from abuse and injustice (Micah 2:1–2, 8–9). All human beings are created in God’s image and are deserving of mutual respect and protection. Sexual and physical harassment, abuse, and exploitation are sinful, violating both persons and mutuality within community.
Similarly, Western Seminary has made a clear commitment to creating a campus culture that opposes sexual violence. “The seminary community will not tolerate sexual harassment,” the seminary website announces, “and is committed to providing and preserving an atmosphere free from harassment in any form.”
What can you do?
Get educated. What is your school doing to ensure you are in compliance with Title IX–related requirements? Do you know your Title IX coordinator? You can begin by reading the April 2015 Title IX Resource Guide, published by the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which is available at bit.ly/TitleIXResourceGuide.
Get curious. How do your theological commitments affect how you approach Title IX compliance? If your school has applied for the religious exemption, how do you nevertheless foster a climate that honors the dignity of all persons both under the law and within your community of faith and learning?
Get active. If it’s in your power, help ensure that faculty, staff, and other members of the seminary have the training and resources to understand the purpose of Title IX regulations, how they apply to your institution, how to prevent sexual harassment and violence, the reporting process for infractions, and matters of confidentiality.
Yale Divinity School is one example of an institution that not only follows the letter of the law, but also strives to care for survivors of sexual violence. The divinity school’s Title IX webpage is clear that they take all complaints seriously and states a commitment to building a safe community. The website also indicates that incoming students receive education on the prevention and reporting of sexual violence and harassment, and it points viewers to campus resources, including Yale University’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center.
Though not every school can provide Yale’s level of support, seminaries can learn from one another about best practices to ensure that they are not just meeting the requirements of Title IX, but that they are also fostering learning communities that honor the dignity of every person and affirm the most fundamental commitments of faith.