Generally, prior to a decade ago, when people heard “Title IX,” they thought of women’s sports. Now, we’ve equated Title IX with sexual violence. However, the topic of Title IX should not be reduced to either of these aforementioned issues. As the law states, “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” (20 U.S.C. § 1681[a], emphasis mine). Thus, Title IX boils down to discrimination based on a person’s sex.
From a recent study entitled Christ-Enlivened Student Affairs, my co-authors and I found that many Christian student affairs professionals had a limited moral imagination of how to integrate their faith with their work in Title IX. In Christian higher education, we greatly emphasize the concept of integrating faith with learning. However, our study found that when applying our faith to our work in Title IX, we fall severely short.
As Christians, why should we care about this issue? I hope, in some respects, the answer is obvious. But for Christian scholars, why is it imperative our institutions (and ourselves) are well-educated and prepared to have a voice in this conversation? The following excerpt from our book, Christ Enlivened Student Affairs, shares our findings and conclusions:
So, why should we care about this issue as Christians? Well, as Robert put it, “Title IX does not discriminate between Christian and secular.” Title IX issues affect every campus, faith-based or not. Beyond that, as Valerie reflected, it is an opportunity for ministry:
I think it’s a huge opportunity for us to handle some of these things in a way that the world wouldn’t . . . what you might not see at a state school when you’re just walking through the process and people are being kind of sterile, and procedural. . . . I just don’t want it to feel sterile and procedural. I don’t want you to not be able to see my face. I don’t want you to think that this doesn’t hurt me, too. So, I think there’s a time to be human. . . . Our investigators tend to be a little more, you know, just taking down the facts, but when somebody comes to report to me, I’m going to pray for them. I’m going to talk through other feelings beyond just facts and show some care for their souls. You know? “What do you think this is saying about who you are as a human?”
In order to be effective in this opportunity, however, our campuses must be well-equipped to deal with Title IX issues. In our survey, participants who disagreed that the staff at their institution were well-equipped to deal with Title IX issues landed at just shy of 10 percent (see Table 12.2).
Although this seems like a respectably small percentage, when adding the group of participants that only slightly agreed with this statement, the percentage increases to 30 percent. Our campuses still lack some confidence in feeling educated and equipped to handle issues of sexual assault, sex- and gender-based harassment, and so forth.
Second, a large majority of our participants alluded to the concept of Christian community as a reason for doing Title IX well. Mason said, “When someone has been broken, or has experienced a traumatic experience, you know, we as Christians are absolutely called to be love for them. I think that’s really important.” Similarly, Nathan reflected, “So, without a doubt, something we feel is really important is making sure that folks are educated on their responsibility for caring for each other on campus— and understanding things, not just from a legal standpoint, not so much, but respect for community.” We were not surprised to see this emphasis on community by our participants. Ted and I (Britney) both attended a Christian campus for our undergraduate experience and fully benefited from this focus on fostering and protecting our Christian community on our respective campuses. In fact, this sense of community is the fundamental reason why we loved our undergraduate experience and became interested in student affairs work and higher education. But when that community is not supportive of someone who has experienced a trauma— particularly someone who has experienced a sexual trauma—we fall short of our Christian calling to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39).
As Christians, we carry a responsibility to care for the vulnerable and hurting. It is imperative we set aside our political notions about Title IX and focus on the fact that people—women and men—are being treated differently on our campuses because of their sex. Our students and even employees are experiencing sex- and gender-based harassment and sexual violence. We should never be complacent with this fact.
Personally, I feel compelled to be a part of righting the wrong of discrimination based on sex. That compulsion isn’t just based on secular moral reasoning, but rather I believe that Christians should be justice-seekers. Christians should be leading the charge on caring for those who have been affected by harassment, sexual violence, stalking, discrimination, exploitation, and more. However, we have at times been part of the problem of perpetuating the hurt of victims:
Finally, I think we have a lot of work to do to undo the damage that has been done to sexual assault victims in the name of religious dogma. I have witnessed the shame sexual assault victims have experienced from the church because of inappropriate questions and judgmental comments regarding the circumstances and context of the assault. That is not what the church is called to be. When we are caring for someone who has experienced dating violence, that is not the time to talk about refraining from premarital sex. If someone reports having been raped, let’s not discuss the issue of modesty just then. I believe this is an opportunity for Spiritual Life directors to take up the gauntlet that Christians often avoid. Christian campuses need to have conversations about biblical sexual ethics. However, the Title IX Coordinator shouldn’t be leading the charge and these conversations definitely should not be taking place during a Title IX report or investigation. There is an appropriate time and a place to have open and genuine conversations about sexual ethics in light of our Christian faith.
Let’s do better. We must listen, learn, pray, advocate, and act to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex.
For more on Christian sexual ethics on college campuses see: https://christianscholars.com/hookup-cultures-on-catholic-college-campuses-an-extended-review/