Changes to Title IX Prompts University Response and Student-Led Medusa Movement

Changes+to+Title+IX+Prompts+University+Response+and+Student-Led+Medusa+Movement

Graphic via Medusa Movement / Mackenzie Harrison and Dalia Skolnick

Sarah Westergren, Maroon-News Staff

Recent changes to Title IX have prompted a response from University staff in policy changes and student response concerned for the wellbeing of survivors of sexual violence in a new activist group, the Medusa Movement. 

In early May, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos confirmed that new policy changes to Title IX, a federal civil rights law intended to protect individuals from discrimination based on sex in educational spaces funded by the federal government, were to take effect on Aug. 14, 2020. Under the new regulations, the Department of Education would impose stricter definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault behaviors. While DeVos has argued that the new rules allow greater fairness for both alleged parties, students on campus have insisted that the new regulations discourage victims from speaking out. 

In response to new federal regulations, a group of administrators and faculty members worked from May 19 to Aug. 14 to revise Colgate’s policy and ensure the University complied with new Title IX changes. The task force participated in webinars, consulted with colleagues at separate institutions and drafted policy change with legal counsel’s assistance. 

“The primary goal of the group tasked with the policy revisions was to develop a policy and process that brought Colgate into compliance with the new federal regulations while remaining faithful to the University’s values and its commitment both to supporting survivors of sexual violence and to a fair and equitable adjudication process,” Title IX coordinator Marilyn Rugg said.

To account for various forms of sexual misconduct not outlined by the new federal regulations, Colgate established two separate violations: Title IX Violations and University Standards. Whereas the Title IX policy no longer includes sexual assault occurring off-campus or during scheduled breaks, for example, Rugg explained that the University Standards account for off-campus assault. Community Leaders were made aware of the new student policy and procedures before first-year students’ arrival. All new students were required to read and acknowledge the student policy while participating in a mandatory online sexual assault prevention program.

Despite Colgate’s efforts, students campuswide have expressed concern over the new regulations. Senior Helen Ferguson, a member of the Konosioni Senior Honor Society and co-founder of the Medusa Movement, explained how her frustrations often translate into activism. After hearing about the new regulations, Ferguson hoped to organize a virtual protest and to provide a survivor-centric support system for students around campus. 

“I felt like the administration just wasn’t talking about this. No one knew that these new regulations were going to go into effect and that it’s a two-thousand-page document so I just felt like the administration should be informing us of the changes to our rights,” Ferguson said. 

After reaching out to senior and co-founder Sofia Perez-Dietz and other students, the group wrote a letter to the Colgate administration outlining their concerns around new federal regulations.

Within 24 hours, the petition boasted over 700 signatures from current students, alumni and other members of the community. Ferguson and Perez-Dietz felt particularly concerned that the University had not addressed the student body about the new regulations until Aug. 13, despite the Department of Education’s announcement in early May. 

“It just shows that people really need an outlet for this and want to be heard and are frustrated,” Ferguson said.

Shortly after signing the petition, Ferguson explained how the group grew overnight, morphing into the current Medusa Movement, a survivor-centric and student-led activist platform. Senior Jailekha Zutshi suggested the name after pointing out that Medusa, a well-known figure in Greek mythology, had long been villainized because of her sexual assault. 

“One of the things I brought up was that, ‘Yes, she’s a survivor of assault. But I wonder how many Legacies professors, for instance, have actually touched on that, and I guarantee that number would be pretty low,’” Zutshi said. 

With a name and logo crafted by junior Mackenzie Harrison and sophomore Dalia Skolnik, the movement quickly took off, with 678 followers on Instagram and 60 members. Perez-Dietz, a member of the Survivor Education and Empowerment sub-committee, most recently helped organize a member training that ensures students understand what it means to be an advocate working to prevent sexual assault while remaining survivor-centric. 

To date, the Survivor Education and Empowerment is striving to create a network of safe individuals on campus that students can identify as active bystanders at a party, much like the Greek system’s designated sober sisters or brothers. Other committees are working to extend Colgate’s alcohol and drug medical amnesty policy to the Comittment to Community Health in order to protect survivors of sexual violence from student conduct violations in reporting or recieving support following an assault. In addition, the group is working to organize a town hall to put administration and students in conversation about the new regulations. Collectively, the Medusa Movement hopes that Colgate will allot more significant funds to programs like Haven, the university’s sexual violence response center, while designating additional staff to Title IX discrepancies.

The movement has remained in continuous contact with the President’s cabinet—including Chief of Staff Hanna Rodriquez-Farrar, Assistant Director of Survivor Support Service Denise Contreras and Senior Advisor to the President Christopher Wells—to clarify the University’s policy stance after exchanging emails earlier in the summer. 

“The administration appears to share a number of goals with this student group, including our desire to effectively communicate the changes in University policy required by a now very complex regulatory environment, and to reassure community members that they will be treated supportively and fairly if they engage with these new policies,” Wells said. 

Interested students can sign the petition and learn about the movement’s other initiatives on Instagram @medusa_movement. Prospective members can also direct message or email the Medusa Movement to join the group’s weekly Zoom meetings. 

“To me, it’s not really top-down changes that are going to make a lot of effort. It’s kind of bottom-up; it’s about creating community and educating people because it’s not enough just to have some safe spaces or have some people be survivor-centric,” Perez-Dietz said. “It’s really amazing to find this community of people. Everyone has a really genuine and deep, honest level of care.”