On Tuesday, Jan. 3, Sara Holtzman began her role on campus as Lawrence’s new Title IX Coordinator. For current seniors, Holtzman will be the sixth coordinator to take up the position, according to former Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (SAASHA) chair Tee Karki, a senior. Holtzman will be filling the position most recently held by Malika Chatterji, who took over in an interim role after former Title IX Coordinator Allison Vetter left in Fall Term. Vetter herself took over for former interim Title IX Coordinator Martha Compton in Spring Term, who stepped into an interim role after the departure of former Title IX Coordinator Shaniqua Crawford.
Title IX is a federal law that was originally enacted in 1972 under former president Richard Nixon’s administration to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sex and gender, specifically to ensure equality in athletic opportunity at institutions of higher education. Over the years, it has expanded its core principles and evolved into the Title IX that students are most familiar with: addressing sexual misconduct concerns and sexually based discrimination across campus.
The law is always subject to change regarding who is in charge of the federal government, Holtzman explained. She suggested that under former president Barack Obama, Title IX processes and responses offered fewer process regulations; whereas under former president Donald Trump, process driven as well as more restrictive in terms of definitions and qualifications of what is to be considered protected under Title IX. Furthermore, a new revision of the law during President Joe Biden’s administration will take effect sometime in May, meaning the fine details of Title IX will change again in the coming future.
These constant changes have put pressure on everyone involved with the office, current SAASHA co-chair Chloe Forero, a junior, said. At the institutional level, Lawrence has no control over the national law, so the university must comply with the ever-changing regulations. While this is not the fault of the Title IX Coordinator, it coincides with a lack of communication between the office and the staff, faculty, and student bases, according to SAASHA co-chair MJ Corum, a junior. They said that this pertains to updates in the Title IX law itself, and even the office and past coordinators’ general absence from around campus.
“They haven’t communicated to us,” said Corum. “Lawrence hasn’t communicated to us. All we’ve seen is that we aren’t getting the support we need. Something that I want…is having [Holtzman] have more of a public presence, like showing up to…general events and [answering] questions about her role in Title IX and what actual Title IX legal policy entails.”
As a result of the current absence, Title IX is shrouded in mystery at Lawrence, Forero said. She feels that what can and cannot be taken care of in the Title IX office is unclear. Forero added that some students are unaware that the office is a resource they have available to them or where it is located because that has not been communicated efficiently to students. She feels that this has led to a rift between the student body and the Title IX office. She hopes that Holtzman will be more proactive on education and transparency to destigmatize her role and the office’s current state.
In addition to a lack of educational transparency, Karki said that there is a lack of resources outside the office more suited to help emotional needs in relation to Title IX cases, which has added to the distrust of the office instilled in students. The coordinator, rather than an emotional support outreach, is a legal extension on campus, and must take a neutral stance in cases. Forero commented that some students believe the office to be all-encompassing when it comes to handling a case, but, according to her, that is untrue. Since the coordinator’s job is to deal with the legal side of cases, they cannot be held responsible for supporting the victim in the meantime, she said.
“People don’t understand that the Title IX coordinator is not your therapist,” Forero explained. “Unfortunately, they have to maintain a pretty neutral position in any case, and as much as that can be jarring for victim or the accusant, it’s part of the process. As much as she wants to give that emotional support, she can’t in order to get the job done.”
Corum said that Lawrence’s counseling offices are what they believe to be one of the only outreaches for emotional support for sexual misconduct survivors. Forero added that the counselors’ schedules are packed already, and that would make it difficult for a victim to receive support. Both are hoping that Holtzman will accomplish creating more spaces separate from the office for survivors as she begins her work.
Corum described the turnover rate – which they called “alarming” – as one of the most obvious problems to the student body. Corum believes that the poor structuring of the Title IX office and its position at Lawrence is partially to blame for the turnover. Forero agreed and added that the high turnover is partially due to the lack of support and solidarity for the coordinator on campus.
“It is one person in one office that is in charge of 1500 students,” Forero said. “There’s not enough support surrounding the Title IX office, and so it’s a very high-pressure position.”
Karki feels that the structuring issues in relation to the turnover rate are a vicious cycle; due to the turnover, there is little to no basis of how the Title IX office should be run when new hires begin their jobs. Not only do the coordinators have the responsibility of doing their job, but there is a layer of structuring the entire office from the ground up, which puts added pressure on the position, Karki added.
While she is still new on campus, Holtzman said she is aware of these issues. She said that her first plan is to increase campus education about Title IX from both a process and prevention standpoint. Her process perspective will be to administer programs about the Title IX law, as well as the office. As for sexual misconduct prevention, she said that strengthening relationships with SAASHA and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Resource and Education (SHARE) committee will be imperative.
Holtzman plans to improve communication between the Title IX office and the rest of campus. Once President Joe Biden’s administration rolls out new Title IX regulations, she will be one of those responsible for drafting Lawrence’s new policy. For sections of the policy she can tailor to the campus’s needs, she plans to collaborate with the Lawrence community and consider what they want to see.
“I’m very open to feedback,” Holtzman said. “So even if you don’t have a Title IX concern that you’re looking to talk to me about, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on the process.”
To bridge the gap between the student body and the office, Holtzman agrees with the SAASHA chairs that she will need to have a more public presence than what the university has seen in the past few years. Showing up to campus events is a definite on her list of ‘to-dos’ in her new position. While she does not plan to show up to every campus event for the sake of student privacy, she would at least like to make her presence known. She made an informal debut to the Lawrence public by attending the basketball game against Knox College on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Moreover, she expressed her excitement for the upcoming It’s On Us week, when she will be tabling outside of Andrew Commons on Wednesday, Feb. 15, offering education about Title IX and breaking the ice in the community.
All three former and current SAASHA chairs are optimistic about Holtzman and her agenda.
“I think that [Holtzman] will be very capable of stepping into this position…as I’ve spoken to her and gotten to know her…I think that she has a huge drive to want to stick around,” Karki said. “This is a professional role that she wants to step into, and she’s taking all the necessary steps and training to slowly fit her way into this position…because she’s coming in not expecting to know everything right off the bat, she’s going to be a lot more cautious and a lot more patient with the process and with students as well. I think that she’ll honestly be a pretty good resource. I hope she sticks around.”