The Driving Questions Behind The University’s Committee On Sexual Assault

The beginning of the school year is full of questions. How was your summer? What classes are you taking? Remind me, where are you living again? The Title IX Steering Committee also began its year with a question. Two questions, actually. Who is here? And is there anyone who is not here who should be?

The Title IX Steering Committee, also called the Sexual Assault Steering Committee, was formed in 2011 as a response to the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL).

The DCL was released by the U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. It explains, “the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence.”

“The goal of the committee is to oversee the policy, prevention, education, and response efforts for student sexual misconduct,” said Katie O’Dair, associate vice president for Student Affairs in an email. O’Dair was appointed as the Title IX coordinator for students in 2011, and she chairs the committee.

“BC has always convened people to discuss policies and practices around sexual misconduct, but we formalized it after the DCL was released,” O’Dair said.

Those two questions that kicked off the meeting may seem like just a formality to begin the year.

But they provide a vitally important setting for these monthly meetings. By asking who is there, it unifies what could appear to be, on the surface, a wide-ranging group. The committee has representatives from dean of students office, women’s center, BCPD, general counsel’s office, and both undergraduate students and graduate students. “Their work on campus somehow relates to Title IX policy, particularly sexual assault,” said Catherine Larabee, MCAS ’16.

Larrabee is the student representative on the committee.

“We added students to the group last year, as students are an important voice, particularly around education efforts,” O’Dair said.

Larrabee’s role as the Bystander co-director in the Women’s Center puts her at a unique intersection of a someone who is very educated on the sexual assault issues on Boston College’s campus, but is also a student, swimming in the very deep water the committee gathers to discuss.

“My perspective is unique to them because I’m able to see things from an on-the-ground level,” she said. If the committee is tackling more abstract problems, such as policy changes or transparency, Larrabee can see if the discussion will affect students in a more direct way than many of the other members of the committee.

Sexual assault is such a large and complex issue on college campus, and many members of the community question how best to handle these issues. The Title IX Steering Committee is a way to make sure everyone who has any stake in policy, prevention, education, or response for student sexual misconduct is in active and engaged in conversation, not just speaking as a reaction to any developments around Title IX.

“It’s a way for the people who, in their jobs, are working on these issues to come together and move forward collectively,” Larrabee said.

The second question the committee asked itself is almost as important—is there anyone who isn’t here who should be?

It’s this sort of zoomed-out view that allows the committee to be effective. It is one of the most important teams this University has, but if each of its roles in sexual assault remains compartmentalized, then an effectiveness and continuity would get lost. But the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is one of the widely talked about problems in the nation, which required University response will continue to evolve.

“We are not a program group, we exist to ensure that the University is in step across the board on all aspects of policy, prevention, and response,” O’Dair said. “Communication is a key part of it.”

This communication is what allows this wide-ranging group to continue to ask and answer the hard questions around sexual assault for the BC community.

Featured Image by Alex Gaynor

Maddie Phelps

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