Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments requires federally funded K-12 schools and universities to take active steps towards eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination on campus and at school-sponsored events.
Universities employ Title IX Coordinators to uphold this standard and ensure that the university complies with Title IX’s current regulations. Title IX Coordinators dedicate their days and nights to the prevention and remediation of sexual harassment and discrimination on college campuses.
On Oct. 1, Mia James-Westendorp was appointed Sacred Heart University’s new Title IX Coordinator.
“I hope to continue their (past SHU Title IX Coordinators’) efforts and chart new paths forward because every student, faculty, and staff member deserves a campus free from sex discrimination and harassment,” said James-Westendorp.
James-Westendorp graduated from SHU in 2013, where she served as the Student Government President in both her junior and senior year. In this role, she was a part of advocating for and designing the addition of the “Good Samaritan Policy” to the Student Handbook. This inspired her to pursue a career on a college campus after graduation.
“I remember wondering – how do you get that kind of job?” said James-Westenthrop. “The administrators I worked with challenged me and supported me in exploring my interests and passions, which had a profound impact on my development and my discernment.”
After graduation, she attended New York University, where she studied Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs. In 2015, she accepted a job at the University of Notre Dame as the Student Activities Coordinator.
In the winter of 2019, James-Westendorp returned to SHU to serve as the Manager of Employee Education. In this position, she worked closely with others on all compliance-related training, including Title IX prevention.
“With Title IX being as expansive as it is, having relationships and visibility are key,” said James-Westenthorp. “I was able to become exposed in that way before assuming this role.”
While holding the position of Title IX Coordinator, James-Westendorp is also enrolled as a doctoral student in the Vanderbilt Peabody College pursuing a Doctorate in Leadership and Learning.
“It is really important to love what you do and what you study,” said James-Westenthorp. “This doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it meaningful.”
Title IX regulations change periodically, including new guidance and regulations, and it is James-Westendorp’s responsibility to understand and implement these changes.
On Aug. 14, the U.S. Department of Education released new regulations that refer to sexual harassment as an umbrella term for a hostile environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
“Implementing the new regulations as of Aug. 14 has been a huge undertaking,” said James-Westendorp. “I have been extensively trained in new areas to support these changes while also working on cases as they come through my office.”
James-Westendorp coordinates the grievanceprocedure to resolve complaints of sexual harassment, assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking.
“I coordinate the grievance process itself, from the receipt of the complaint to the investigation, hearing, and resolution/decision, as well as appeals,” said James-Westendorp.
Title IX also stresses the importance of “supportive measures” as part of the grievance procedure.
“Supportive measures are a critically important part of the healing process,” said James-Westendorp.
These can include no-contact orders, connections to confidential resources such as the Center for Family Justice or counseling, academic accommodations, rearrangement of housing assignments, and other supportive elements to assist students who have been affected by sex discrimination/harassment.
“They (students) should feel 100% comfortable to come to Title IX to learn about the process and take advantage of the support available to them,” said James-Westendorp.
Supportive measures are not contingent upon when or if the complainant proceeds with a formal hearing.
“Barring threats of violence where the university must take action to protect you and other students, you are able to direct each and every piece of the process moving forward,” said James-Westendorp.
At SHU, all faculty and staff (not including confidential resources such as clergy and healthcare workers) and some student workers are considered “mandatory reporters.” This means that if they hear of any sexual harassment or discrimination, they are required to report it.
However, mandatory reporters cannot file a formal complaint. This can only be done by the complainant, who can keep their identity anonymous if needed, or the Title IX Coordinator.
“I am only as strong and impactful as the information I have, which is why bringing information to the Title IX Coordinator is so important,” said James-Westendorp. “I’m not in your classes, at your parties, or in your group messages.”
Currently, James-Westendorp is working to train faculty and staff so they are aware of the new policies and procedures.
“Students should be able to trust that the professionals they work and interact with on a daily basis are well-informed and can assist if they are made aware of issues that violate our community expectations,” said James-Westendorp.
Title IX Coordinators around the country are continuously working to better their university’s campus and students’ experiences.
“Every single student deserves a SHU experience free from sex harassment and discrimination,” said James-Westendorp. “And I will work tirelessly to do all I can to make that a reality.”