By Caroline Schroeder, Guest Blogger
This past week Oregon State University President F. King Alexander eschewed blame for his role in Louisiana State University’s mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints during his tenure. Alexander claimed that, regardless of whether or not he was aware of this crisis, he could not have addressed it because Louisiana is “a very conservative state with very conservative values”.
Whether or not it is even fair or accurate to apply such blanket labels to an entire state, the people of Louisiana have been outraged by this scandal from the start. This reaction disproves Alexander’s accusations, and is evidence that their compassion and concern is not confined to politics.
Alexander’s inaccurate and unhelpful comments reflect the national dialogue fed to us and perpetuate the politicization of Title IX. This not only distorts the truth of the matter but damages its integrity.
Like so many other controversial topics today, increased political polarization has not spared Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, despite its nonpartisan origins. Proposed by Democratic congresswoman and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon, the passage of Title IX was more than a one-sided political victory. By prohibiting sex discrimination in education, it effectively guaranteed equal access to education for women.
The text was brief and simple, but its effects were far-reaching. Supreme Court decisions in the decades that followed further expanded on the definition of “discrimination” to include sexual harassment and gender-based violence. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee and the first woman to serve on the court, explained in the majority opinion of Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), such behavior “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect”.
The early origins of Title IX were not without controversy, but they were apolitical. Its support did not come from one side of the aisle but from a shared respect for women.
We have since evolved our understanding of sexual and domestic violence over time. For example, today we recognize that men, like women, are survivors who deserve our respect and understanding. As our understanding has changed, so, too, have the federal guidelines for Title IX policies and procedures.
The last two presidential administrations, in particular, each proposed their own attempted reforms to the formal resolution process that universities use to address sexual misconduct. Both came from administrations with differing political ideologies, therefore both were subject to intense scrutiny.
And rightly so. This is not an issue that can be taken lightly. It demands constant scrutiny, debate, and revision. This is not for the sake of divisive partisanship, but for the critical need to depoliticize sexual and domestic violence.
Alexander’s comments are not dissimilar to those of others in positions of power. By politicizing the topic, he deflected blame, and shifted responsibility onto something abstract. When we do this, we see the issue as something that is too complicated for mere mortals to solve and, even worse, we subsequently neglect the needs of survivors. Rather than take the bait that Alexander has left us, we must remember that our outrage comes from our shared humanity, not politics.
Caroline Schroeder is a Baton Rouge native who experienced firsthand the institutional failures of Title IX at LSU. She currently works as a freelance copywriter for philanthropic organizations. See her on LinkedIn.