A new website dedicated to helping students access resources in the wake of sexual harassment or assault is the latest step placing Illinois State University at the forefront of the evolution of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
“Title IX was primarily viewed through the lens of sports,” said Illinois State’s Title IX Coordinator M. Shane McCreery of the law that was originally meant to ensure equal and equitable facilities for male and female students.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights reinterpreted Title IX to include sex discrimination. “They put out a call to universities to have a structure in place for the process and adjudication of allegations.” said McCreery, who also serves as the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, Ethics and Access. He explained allegations can include harassment and/or discrimination based on sex, gender, and/or gender identity including sexual harassment, sexual assault/misconduct, dating/domestic violence, and stalking.
Illinois State had long had processes in place, but the switch of sexual and gender discrimination to Title IX gave the University an opportunity to bring together the input of numerous offices on campus, from the Division of Students Affairs and Student Counseling Services, to the Office of General Counsel and Health Promotion and Wellness. “It really was all hands on deck, and we worked together very smoothly to bring together a lot of moving parts,” said McCreery.
The site includes contact information for reporting incidents, getting counseling or medical help, and access to campus and community support services. “All the information was spread out across various ISU websites,” said McCreery,” but now it is easily accessible in one spot.”
When going onto http://titleix.illinoisstate.edu, the first option on the page is Get Help Now. “We put a lot of time and attention to building the site so that it was easy for anyone to use,” said McCreery of the mobile-friendly site developed by WEB with input from University Marketing and Communications. “It had to have clear paths to the resources and information people need.”
When developing the site, McCreery and the team worked with student groups to talk about language. “We don’t use terms like ‘complainant’ and ‘respondent,’ we’ve tried to make this as plain-text as possible,” said McCreery, who added other colleges and universities are adopting Illinois State’s techniques. “I’ve had colleagues say to me, ‘I never thought to take out that technical language, but it makes sense.’”
Title IX continues to evolve, and Illinois State’s new Title IX website reflects the changes. “Perhaps the biggest change is that a student does not have to file a criminal complaint in order to have due process,” said McCreery. The Title IX process on a university campus is separate from a criminal process. “A person can file both, but the idea of the criminal process might have a chilling effect on those who would report, and we wanted them to have an alterative.”
Filing a Title IX allegation means the University can offer interim measures almost immediately. “We can take steps to make sure people reporting can avoid situations where they feel uncomfortable,” said McCreery. “That could include moving classes or residence halls, or even being able to take meals in their rooms.”
Through the changes to Title IX, McCreey said there has been a national rise in students willing to engage in the process of making a report or complaint. “Research is showing us that students are now more willing to report instances. They are more aware of their rights and resources, and the stigma that surrounds sexual assault is fading. We hope this new website will contribute to that awareness.”