This letter and alumni signatures were originally published here.
Dear President Jordan,
I write this letter in the hope that you will commit publicly to enforcing Title IX, in the wake of announcements by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that the federal government will be rescinding specific guidance and enforcement for schools. These include the Dear Colleague Letter, which clarified the responsibility of educational institutions to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus, and made it easier for students to understand the nature of this responsibility. As an alumnus who has great respect and pride for my school, I urge you to continue to improve and expand upon your legal and moral obligation to support the most important patrons of your institution: the students.
With the implementation of Title IX, students came to expect that their institution would treat them equally, and that there would be legal recourse if that expectation was not upheld. Students should not only be treated with equality, but also with justice—those students who are cast aside and marginalized within almost every institution in our society can find a home in liberal arts institutions, where scholars are cultivated within an environment that expects and allows them to reach toward a better society. The goal of a college, and particularly a public honors college like St. Mary’s, is to resist the oppressive forces of other societal institutions through knowledge. Students at St. Mary’s learn to challenge those forces in society that tell them they are not worthy, that they do not deserve to fully flourish in all their potential.
The things I learned at St. Mary’s allow me to write this letter, and to see where our societal institutions fail us. Students should not be prevented from accessing the knowledge that is available at a university, which is what happens when students experience violence. Twelve percent of students at St. Mary’s said they had experienced sexual misconduct in a survey administered in 2016. National data reflect that about one[-]fifth of female students on college campuses experience sexual violence or misconduct. Incidents of sexual violence can lead survivors to experience issues with mental health, feeling safe at school, and ability to perform academically. This is compounded for survivors who face other forms of oppression, such as those who are LGBTQ+, people of color, or otherwise marginalized in society.
Title IX is just one law that helps protect students and provide justice when institutional forces and implicit bias threaten to impede that process of learning. But Title IX is not immune to institutional oppression, and can be both used and ignored in ways that do not promote justice. St. Mary’s has four active Title IX complaints open with the Department of Education. Without enforcement from federal bodies, these cases may not see the resolution they deserve. Title IX should be enforced with the input and wellbeing of survivors of violence in mind, and when it fails to do so, the best it can provide is a quick fix to a complex problem that most severely impacts those who already face discrimination and barriers to learning.
Another way to ensure Title IX is being enforced with justice in mind is by supporting students who want to be resources to their peers—who are willing to, without pay or compensation, volunteer their own emotional labor and time away from class to provide support for survivors of violence. I was one of those volunteers at St. Mary’s, and the work my peers and I tried to do was often met with a lack of administrative support, and at times, deliberate administrative resistance. According to students still attending St. Mary’s, the administration continues to fail in supporting these student advocates. School staff and administrators should be trained in how to support and train student volunteers, so that there can be even more resources and opportunities for survivors to feel safe and comfortable on campus.
Without students, and specifically those students whose essential perspectives are needed to examine and critique society, a school would not be a school. St. Mary’s would not be the well-regarded liberal arts college it is without the people who make up its body. I urge St. Mary’s to use research- and evidence-based approaches that are informed by the perspectives of diverse people to guide its response to violence on campus. Following our values in this way will help our students succeed so that they can continue to fight back against injustice without fear of losing needed support from the institution in which they put their trust.
I encourage you to follow the guidance of survivor-led organizations like Know Your IX (https://www.knowyourix.org/) and End Rape on Campus (http://endrapeoncampus.org/), and make a public statement outlining your commitment to supporting survivors and ending sexual violence at St. Mary’s.
Sincerely, and in Solidarity,
152 Alumni of St. Mary’s College of Maryland