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Take Back the Night hosts Title IX discussion with State Senator Creigh Deeds

Students posed questions to Deeds regarding Title IX and political engagement while also voicing concerns about sexual assault resources at the University

<p>TBTN at U.Va. is a student-run organization that aims to increase awareness of sexual violence.&nbsp;</p>

TBTN at U.Va. is a student-run organization that aims to increase awareness of sexual violence. 

Take Back the Night at U.Va. organized a virtual event centered around Title IX Monday evening. Members of the organization were joined by Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds in a discussion that focused on interpretations of Title IX in the past and future, ways to stay politically engaged and possible improvements to sexual assault resources at the University. The event is one of two events TBTN is hosting about Title IX, with the second to be held Friday at 5 p.m.

Title IX, a federal law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prevents gender-based discrimination in education.

TBTN at U.Va. is a student-run organization that aims to increase awareness of sexual violence. With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, TBTN at U.Va. is offering events including a spoken word and prevention workshop and a fundraiser to benefit the Charlottesville Sexual Assault Resource Agency — a nonprofit organization that provides resources for sexual assault survivors including a hotline, therapy and support groups as well as prevention programs for schools and parents. A vigil for survivors was held over the weekend. 

Deeds, who represents Virginia’s 25th Senate District, has advocated for mental health resources and education along with support for crime victims since his election in 2001. 

To get the discussion started, Deeds gave a brief overview of Title IX and how it has changed under different presidents. Because of the law’s brevity, it has the opportunity to be interpreted either loosely or strictly. 

“It was interpreted during President Obama's term in office to extend beyond just the phrase sexual discrimination to include gender discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination,” Deeds said. “But the Trump administration scaled back.” 

While the president has more control over the law, local and state governments have little say in Title IX’s interpretation. As a federal mandate, Title IX regulation falls under the power of the Department of Education and is monitored by the national government. Deeds emphasized how the state can pass legislation but in the end, the effect on Title IX is minimal. 

“Ultimately, the pushback has to come from the people,” Deeds said. “The pushback has to come from the people that are electing those people who refuse to make federal policy that you want.” 

Andrew Prince, co-chair of TBTN at U.Va. and graduate Batten student, asked Deeds whether he thought that Biden would be slow to implement a more loose approach to Title IX. While former President Trump ultimately rolled back enforcement of the law, it was not until later in his presidency that this started to take effect. This directive included reducing the budget for the Office of Civil Rights that oversees Title IX, decreasing investigative requirements after an instance of sexual assault has occurred and loosening the standards for when a school can seen as violating Title IX by not doing enough to prevent sexual harrassment.

Deeds acknowledged that there was a possibility Biden would begin to adjust the interpretation of Title IX soon. 

“President Biden, you know, is in the middle of it, he's kinda got an agenda,” Deeds said. “Once he gets to this on his list of things to do, it should not take very long.” 

As the discussion shifted to civic responsibility and engagement, Deeds began to address the importance of political participation. He noted that constantly staying in the loop about politics can be tiring, but it is important nonetheless if people are hoping to see change. Oftentimes, he said, the best way for people to have their voice heard is through elections.

“I would hope that if you really care about public policy and you care about the way things work and you understand that process is everything that you will stay tuned in at every election,” Deeds said. 

Deeds also emphasized the importance of talking, writing letters and emailing local officials. He reminded students that, as citizens, there is a responsibility to engage politically. 

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and you've got to squeak in order to be heard,” Deeds said. “You've got to squeak in order to make a difference.” 

Towards the end of the discussion, third-year College student Regan Myers expressed a couple concerns, including a possible lack of training for Title IX reporters at the University, the location of the Title IX office on Grounds and the need to implement a system of anonymous reporting of sexual assault.

Currently, the Title IX office is located on Rugby Road near Beta Bridge, next to many fraternity houses, and some students have expressed that they might feel more comfortable approaching the office if it was in a different location. Additionally, anonymous reporting is currently not an option offered to students. 

In April 2020, U.Va. Survivors, a student organization that aims to prevent sexual violence, created a list of demands that mirror many of the same concerns that were voiced Monday night surrounding resources and accountability. Most notably, the list of demands centered around the often long and fruitless Title IX investigation process that left many unsatisfied. For example, after waiting for two years, one survivor finally received the verdict that her abuser was found guilty of sexual assault, but he was still able to receive his degree and walk free with no consequences.

In summer 2020, continued dissatisfaction with sexual violence resources at the University became more clear after an anonymous Twitter account — @ExposedUVA — gave survivors a platform to share their sexual assualt experiences and name their alleged abusers. Many student-run, anti-sexual assault organizations feel that little progress has been made towards ending sexual assault on Grounds.

Myers asked Deeds for advice on how to have some of these concerns heard and eventually addressed. Deeds encouraged TBTN at U.Va. to place a list of demands in a letter with their information at the top. 

“Get me that letter on your letterhead, pointing out the three or four things you want to make change with now,” Deeds said. “I will go to President Ryan myself, and I'll be an advocate for you.” 

To end the night, Deeds also encouraged students to talk with members of Student Council and reminded everyone to stay engaged because that is the only way to make change happen.