Opinion: How EMU is working to humanize Title IX

Calvin D. Phillips

Reporting a Title IX incident is an inherently sensitive and often overwhelming ordeal.

Speaking to someone you may not know in an authoritative position — whether you’re a student or an employee — to divulge details about a traumatic experience can feel scary, if not impossible. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

After spending 18 years as a top administrator in Eastern Michigan University’s Athletics Department, Melody Werner actually came out of retirement to become EMU’s full-time Title IX coordinator. She assumed this position in June 2015 after a year-long search on EMU’s part for the new position.

Melody Werner, EMU Title IX Coordinator

When she started in this role she said that one (surprising) measure of success would be an increase in the reporting of sexual misconduct incidents, because that would be an indication that people knew how and where to report incidents — and more importantly, that they trusted the process.

She is encouraged when she sees reports come in because it means that she has the opportunity to help someone who otherwise might not get the help and support that they need in order to continue in their role as a student or an employee.

Now that it’s 2019, she credits some distinct factors about the EMU process that have led to a strong Title IX program. These all center on her efforts to humanize the office.

Graduates at Eastern Michigan University's spring commencement at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)

Strategic hiring: While many institutions have hired attorneys to fill Title IX roles, EMU decided that it wanted to take a different approach. Werner is not an attorney, but she has extensive experience with Title IX and in working with students, faculty and staff. Above all else, EMU wanted a Title IX process that was caring and accessible, knowing that individuals wanting or needing to report a Title IX incident would feel more comfortable reporting it if the process was not overly legalistic or intimidating.

Education, training and introductions: Title IX processes are only effective if people know and understand their rights. For students, seminars are hosted during orientation at the start of each school year. For faculty and staff, it is included in their new hire orientation.

But it’s not a matter of just throwing information at them and hoping it sticks. Werner is actually going out around campus and speaking to these groups of people, sharing her contact information, sharing what she does in her role, and making sure they understand how to get help if they need it.

In addition, Werner also regularly attends meetings of various student groups around campus, such as fraternity, sorority and athletic team meetings. These groups now request her presence at meetings to ensure their members are fully educated on Title IX.

Everything handled in house: It is common at many schools for a student to be handed a list of resources when they come forward with a Title IX complaint. These resources may include the local police department if the person wants to make a report, counselors that specialize in Title IX incidents, or other contacts across campus that may be able to assist in changing classes, living arrangements, and more, in cases that require those adjustments.

That is not how it is done at EMU. When a person meets with Werner, she personally handles everything for them.

In the end, these practices have allowed EMU to humanize the Title IX process — in turn creating an environment and Title IX process that we believe encourages victims to come forward and begin the process of recovering and healing from whatever circumstance they’ve been through.

Calvin D. Phillips, D.Ed. serves as associate vice president for student affairs at Eastern Michigan University.