Title IX office fundamentally restructured

By HANNAH BENSEN

The Title IX office underwent structural changes in the last year, and its newly hired staff hopes the changes will increase transparency surrounding the services and resources they offer to students. 

Title IX protects people from sex and gender-based discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive funding from the federal government. The restructuring of Middlebury’s Title IX office was prompted, in part, by the Workforce Planning initiative that began last year. The changes were also made due to recommendations by an advisory group, which prompted the administration to move the Title IX office out of risk management and over to the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and inclusion (OIDEI).  

Under the old system, the Title IX Coordinator reported to the Vice President for Human Relations and Chief Risk Officer, Karen Miller. In the new system, the equivalent position now reports to Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández. 

The changes to the Title IX Coordinator’s job description came with a new job title:  the Civil Rights and Title IX Coordinator. This role will be filled by Marti McCaleb, who began her tenure July 15, after Sue Ritter ’83 left the position last November. McCaleb joins Humans Relations Officers Eric Lόpez and Thaddeus Watulak, who began in their positions last spring. 

According to McCaleb, the move from Risk Management to the OIDEI reflects the intention of the Title IX act. 

“Title IX is very much a thing that is founded in educational equity, not in risk management or compliance,” McCaleb said. “It is not a question of protecting the college from a potential lawsuit, it is about what is right for our campus community.”

 Despite the shift in administrative structure, the adjudication process for disciplinary investigations will largely remain the same. The primary difference between the previous and current arrangements is that the new system distances the relationship between the Title IX coordinator and the Human Rights Officers (HROs) who act as “fact-finders” in matters of disciplinary investigation, meaning that they review the information, speak with all parties and ultimately decide if someone is responsible for violation policy. 

In the old system, the HROs reported directly to the Title IX coordinator, meaning that the Title IX coordinator directly oversaw the investigation. McCaleb explained that affected parties may have felt less comfortable seeking support from the same person who was overseeing their investigation.

Now, HROs report directly to Fernández. McCaleb believes this will positively affect how experience students, faculty and staff experience the process. 

“I am not overseeing the collection of evidence or the daily pieces of the investigation,” McCaleb said. “My role is to be a support rather than to be a supervisor of the investigation. I am more of a conduit for the parties to make sure that the process is fair and unbiased and that all parties know their rights and can access the services and supports they are entitled to while an adjudication is ongoing.” 

The move also makes sense, said Fernández, because of the broader capacity of resources in the OIDEI. 

“At the heart of title IX is discrimination based on sex or gender,” Fernández said. “The office [of institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion] also deals with anti-harassment and discrimination that is sometimes not based on gender or sex. When you start thinking about civil rights and discrimination, now you start to see the connection to institutional diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Although most people think of funding for sports teams and sexual misconduct when they think of Title IX, McCaleb said the law applies far more broadly.  

“It could apply equally to a female faculty member passed over for tenure because of her gender or a female graduate student in a lab that doesn’t get the same opportunities that her male colleagues would,” McCaleb said. “And obviously it applies in the case of a student who is experiencing sexual harassment or has been sexually assaulted.”

McCaleb recognizes that students may have several misconceptions regarding the role of the Title IX office. One is that many people believe that if they report an incident to the Title IX office, they will be forced to initiate a formal investigation. In reality, McCaleb said, the office defers to the wishes of the complainant, unless not reporting poses a danger to an individual or the community. 

To help people better understand the Title IX office, McCaleb and other employees began hosting information sessions with various student groups, academic departments and other offices to educate them about sexual norms and interpersonal respect at the beginning of this academic year. With these outreach events, which she plans to continue into the academic year, McCaleb hope to educate students, faculty and staff about the support services available in, and the processes of, the Title IX office. 

Based on feedback McCaleb has received during these sessions, she has noticed that many students do not understand how to navigate the system. McCaleb hopes that by being transparent regarding her office’s process, students will be more likely to seek the support they need. 

“I am very much on a listening tour this semester of hearing people’s experiences and how they have experienced the office or not experienced the office,” McCaleb said. “Do people consider the Civil Rights and Title IX office a place where they can go, or is it a place that they actively try to avoid? Every institution has its own culture on how it addresses interpersonal violence.” 

Now that the Title IX office is located in OIDEI, Fernández hopes that the intersections between Title IX and other identities will become more apparent.  

“Part of what we’ve been doing this year is trying to think about the relationship between the different components on campus,” Fernández said. “What’s the relationship between the Anderson Freeman Center and Title IX, and the Scott Center, and disability resources, and education for Equity and Inclusion? We are all working around equity, inclusion, and identity in different ways.”