Professional News

Understanding Title IX: An Interview With UK's Title IX Coordinator

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Martha Alexander.
Martha Alexander.

LEXINGTON. Ky. (Dec. 3, 2019) — Unfortunately, incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are happening on college campuses everywhere, and often go unreported. While programs focusing on violence prevention are underway at the University of Kentucky, major efforts are also being made to support sexual assault victim-survivors and targets of sexual harassment. Students have always been able to report crimes to police or incidents to the Dean of Students Office. However, victim-survivors have other options including the office responsible for ensuring compliance with Title IX. 

What exactly is Title IX?  It's a groundbreaking federal civil rights law passed in 1972 that forever changed public education, improving opportunities for women far and wide. 

Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

While Title IX has been historically linked to gender equity in university programs, it applies to all aspects of education, from course offerings and educational programs to the enforcement of policies regarding sexual assault and harassment on campus.

At UK, Title IX is enforced by the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity (IEEO). With a mission to promote an environment free of discrimination and harassment, their hope is to foster a community of respect and belonging at UK.

Martha Alexander, who joined IEEO in 2015 as the deputy Title IX coordinator, now holds the title of executive director and Title IX coordinator. 

UKNow recently sat down with Alexander to discuss Title IX and the office's commitment to equal opportunity for all members of the Big Blue family.

UKNow: What exactly falls under the scope of Title IX?

Alexander: Title IX is a federal law that applies to all forms of sex discrimination. That includes sex or gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, pregnancy discrimination and the provision of equal opportunities in all university programs and activities. The university has two policies that cover the scope of behaviors prohibited by Title IX. Those are Administrative Regulation 6:1 and Administrative Regulation 6:2.

UKNow: Who does Title IX protect?

Alexander: The university’s policies relating to Title IX cover anyone affiliated with the university — faculty, staff and students — regardless of where the prohibited behavior occurs. The purpose of the university’s policies is to ensure that people are able to participate in university activities wherever those activities occur without experiencing harassment or discrimination. People often think that Title IX applies only to women, but it protects everyone from being treated differently on the basis of their gender. 

UKNow: If a student or employee shares a report of harassment or misconduct with a faculty member or a member of IEEO staff, will the IEEO staff keep the complaint private?

Alexander: Yes. While most employees of the university are responsible employees — meaning they are responsible for sharing the report of discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct with IEEO — IEEO will keep the information private once it is received. 

If individuals want to speak with someone on campus who is not required to share the information with IEEO, they can contact the Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center, the Counseling Center, or UK HealthCare's University Health Service if they require medical attention. These offices are confidential resources and can assist individuals with accessing resources. 

Individuals can also make a report of discrimination or harassment by contacting IEEO directly at 859-257-8927 or by completing the electronic report form

UKNow: What happens after a report has been made?

Alexander: It depends on what the person who experienced the behavior wants to happen. I think people believe that once the university knows about harassment or misconduct, a scary formal process immediately starts — this is a misconception. The university’s internal process for reporting complaints of sexual misconduct is largely complainant driven. I believe the person who experienced the behavior is the best person to decide what they need to be safe and successful on campus. That means that the person who experienced the behavior decides whether they want to engage with IEEO and on what level. 

Some people are able to achieve what they need to be successful and safe on campus by engaging in our informal process — which is a process that provides academic support, resources, residence hall moves, class schedule changes, No Contact Orders and other interim measures, but does not involve a formal investigation of the allegations or a hearing. Any action that only impacts the person who experienced the behavior can be taken privately in the informal process without notifying any other party to the behavior. 

Other people choose to initiate a formal process. This process can involve all the interim measures the informal process allows but also includes a formal investigation, in which all parties have an opportunity to provide information to the investigator. The formal process also includes the possibility that the allegations may be heard and decided upon by a hearing panel and that sanctions may be imposed on the accused. 

Once IEEO receives a report, a staff member will send the person who experienced the behavior an email asking to schedule a meeting and letting them know about resources on campus and in the community. If the person experiencing the behavior doesn’t respond to the email, the staff member will reach out a couple more times before letting the individual know how to file a report if they change their mind later. There is no time limit on reporting behavior that falls within university policies related to discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct. 

UKNow: Are there any other misconceptions?

Alexander: One thing that people consistently worry about is retaliation — being treated differently because they sought help. Retaliation is any action that prevents someone who made a report of prohibited behavior or who served as a witness in an investigation from engaging in a university activity. Retaliation is prohibited by university policy and by federal law. If people engage in retaliation, they will be subject to sanctions. 

Another important item to mention is that the university’s sexual misconduct policy gives amnesty for drug and alcohol violations of the Student Code of Conduct. That means that if person bringing the complaint was using alcohol or drugs when the behavior occurred, they will not be sanctioned for violating the Student Code of Conduct. 

UKNow: What do you think about the growing national attention on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses?

Alexander: I think it’s great. More awareness has led to increased reporting and more people getting the help they need to stay at UK after experiencing discrimination, harassment or sexual misconduct. This increased awareness also means that the campus community is more receptive to and aware of the prevention efforts on campus. 

UKNow: What are some measures the University of Kentucky is taking to increase awareness, provide assistance and aid in prevention?

Alexander: IEEO conducts in person training on discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct to a large number of students and employees and has been increasing those efforts over the last two years. IEEO also hosts a training that is open to everyone the second Wednesday of each month at 10:30 a.m. in Room 9 of the Main Building.

 As we discussed earlier, most employees of the university are responsible employees — this makes it much easier to make sure that people who need help are able to access it because it means people who need help can talk to most employees and easily get referred to IEEO. 

UK is the home of the Green Dot Program, and the VIP Center does great work providing tools to the community about bystander intervention through Green Dot. 

UKPD provides self-defense classes on a regular basis, the LiveSafe app, which is free to all UK community members, and additional safety resources. 

The university also provides a free on-call ride service, Wildcab. 

UKNow: Why should these issues be important to the campus community?

Alexander: UK provides equal opportunity to all community members and, as an institution, we value integrity, mutual respect, and human dignity. It is the responsibility of all members of the community to ensure these values are the lived experienced of the community. One instance of discrimination, harassment or sexual misconduct is one too many and preventing such instances is on all of us. 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.