It can be extremely difficult for any student to report sexual assault to an institution of higher education, especially an HBCU student. Despite the media traction college sexual assault has received over the past few years, HBCU students still are not educated about their Title IX rights. Being unaware of Title IX and HBCUs vast underreporting and cover-ups of sexual assaults especially puts HBCU students in a particularly vulnerable position.
HBCUs are advertised as safe havens and shelters where Black students can receive a proper education, free from racism and violence. Thus it is understandable why HBCU students trust their institutions to properly address sexual assaults. However, like PWIs, HBCUs are subjected to fostering an oppressive and hostile environment. Sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, misogynoir — anti-black misogyny — transphobia, and classism continue to be perpetuated at HBCUs at similar rates to other PWIs. Challenges dealing with these oppressions with intersecting identities as well as race could deter some survivors (i.e. women of color, trans people of color, queer people of color, etc) from reporting to institutions. Discriminatory beliefs not only silence survivors, but also normalize rape culture, violence against marginalized groups, and perpetuate racist, sexist, and homophobic myths to deny justice. If you believe that your school administration may be fostering a hostile environment and taking advantage of your lack of knowledge on your rights, here are some FAQ to assist:
1. How can Black students be discriminated against at an HBCU?
Many people believe that those who are oppressed do not have the power to discriminate against others. However, this is false, because oppression is systemic and institutional. As explained in “Resources for HBCU Students,” HBCUs commonly perpetuate sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia similar to PWIs and can foster the same racist ideologies used against people of color. Marginalized Black people such as Black cisgender and transgender women, Black LGBTQ folks, Black people with disabilities, etc. are especially discriminated against because of their shared identity with other marginalized communities. Some examples of HBCUs discriminating against students are:
- Having policies enforcing strict dress codes, creating a culture that reinforces sex stereotypes that imposes students to conform to stereotyped notions of masculinity or femininity (Ie. Requiring that male students wear traditionally men’s clothing and vice versa, promoting an strict conformity to stereotyped ideas around gender)
- Using previous victimization against Black cis and trans women to discriminate in sexual assault cases
- Failure to provide accessible and culturally competent resources to Black students with disabilities
- Forcing students with disabilities to go through extensive testing and exhaustive process in order to be given the proper care
2. How do I know if I’m being discriminated against by an HBCU?
If you feel that you may be receiving different treatment or retaliation by a school, don’t second guess and trust yourself. Believe in your experiences, you are not alone. Historically, violence against Black people has always been minimized. It has been shown through the United States’ use of propaganda, history books, political rhetoric around reparations, etc. A few examples of discrimination and tactics institutions use that are violations of Title IX include:
- Purposely misinforming students of their rights
- Threatening to take away a student’s scholarship due to decreasing GPA that is a result of sexual violence
- Failing to provide culturally competent counseling and medical services to students
- Discouraging students from making reports and sharing their experiences in order to protect the HBCU’s image
- Pressuring students into silence in order to show “racial unity” at the expense of marginalized Black folks
Additionally, survivors of HBCU sexual assault state the reason why they do not report is because “it was not serious enough to report.” When students who identify with multiple marginalized groups report their case, the violence they have experienced is often minimized due to racist attitudes carried over by the dominant society. (i.e. a Black woman is presumed to be a jezebel, or promiscuous, while reporting so her case is dismissed).
It can be difficult for students to explain the unique challenges they face, especially in cases of HBCUs violating Title VI. Therefore it depends on HBCU students to believe themselves and don’t self doubt when their reports are being dismissed due to intersectional issues involving race, gender, sexuality, and gender expression. Then students should consider filing a complaint against their institution and the following step.
3. How do I create a paper trail?
If you believe that you might be discriminated against or that your rights are being violated when you report your sexual assault, make sure to keep documentation of your interactions with school officials. Documenting communications and interactions with an institution is helpful when providing evidence of discrimination in a complaint or lawsuit.
- Try to get all communications in writing and/or audio recorded (only in certain states where this is permitted)
- Note taking
- Follow up in person meetings and verbal interactions with emails summarizing the meeting,
- Written statements
4. What is Title VI?
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal assistance. Title VI in conjunction with Title IX can be used to address sexual violence and discrimination against people of color.
Under Title VI, law institutions are legally obligated to take the necessary measures to ensure equal educational access to all races, ethnicities, and nationalities. These actions may include nondiscriminatory practices in programs and activities such as: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, student treatment and services, counseling , discipline, grading, athletics, housing and employment. Title VI also protects students from retaliation. If a survivor of color was discriminated against on the basis of gender and race after a sexual assault, for instance, by in order to dismiss a case, they can argue they were not afforded an equal hearing, thus denying them fair opportunities to educational access.
Although Title VI doesn’t specifically list what is covered in its guidelines, students of color still hold the same right as anyone else to feel safe and protected while on campus. Due to interactions between marginalized identities, institutions can discriminate against people due to their status as a survivor and race. Filing a joint Title IX and Title VI complaint can specifically support survivors of color so that they can describe how institutions are commonly insensitive to communities of color, are poorly trained, and lack cultural competency when addressing campus sexual assault.
A Note on Title VI:
Title VI and HBCUs, were created to give students of color, who were barred from academia by segregation and Jim Crow laws, access to higher education. However, there continues to be discrimination outside of segregation that prevents students of color from accessing equal educational opportunities As students of color, even those attending HBCUs, continue to be denied educational access,Title VI must also address any issue that may prevent a student of color from educational opportunities. This includes focusing on issues such as sexual violence, racialized hate crimes, and the lack of culturally competent policies as means of denying students of color equal access to educational programs and activities.
5. How does Title IX and Title VI protect HBCU students who may also be survivors of sexual violence?
Both Title IX and Title VI ensure an equal access to education. The OCR has explained that sexual violence denies students from an equal educational access. Title VI is to protect students of color from discrimination in education. Thus, Title IX and Title VI collectively serves to protect survivors of color who are discriminated against because of their status as a survivor and race.
6. What are my on campus reporting options if I’m an HBCU student?
HBCU students have legal protections covered under Title IX, Title VI, Title II, etc equivalent to any other student. Therefore, the Title IX Coordinator could be the best reporting option for students, especially Black survivors who may not feel safe reporting to campus police. Title IX Coordinators are required to lead an investigation into any sexual assault case that is reported to them. They also have the authority to discipline perpetrators, grant no contact orders, offer counseling and medical services covered by the school and give academic and housing accommodations.
Some schools may list campus police or on campus resource centers (ie. women’s or LGBTQ centers) as resources for survivors of sexual assault, however for most schools only the Title IX Coordinator has the authority to properly discipline and make accommodations for students, so most students usually go straight to the school’s Coordinator in order to directly report. Sometimes survivors feel most comfortable disclosing their experiences of sexual violence to a trusted faculty or staff of the school. If you would like assistance with reporting sexual violence to the Title IX Coordinator, then enlisting a trusted faculty or staff as an advisor may be helpful. However, it is important for survivors to be cautious if they wish to remain anonymous because a school’s faculty and staff might be mandatory reporters. Some schools require faculty and staff to be responsible employees who are obligated under Title IX to report all instances of sexual violence they should reasonably know of to the Title IX Coordinator. Some examples of responsible employees are Greek advisors, department chairs, deans, and residential advisors.
A Note on Confidentiality:
For specifics on anonymously and/or confidential reporting, you can inquire within the Title IX office as each school has its own internal confidential and/or online reporting system and state laws vary. While some schools may have both, others don’t offer these reporting options at all. State laws have different confidentially laws for mental health and other medical professionals. Some staff have privileged communication, meaning that any communication between a client and qualified service provider is protected, while others working at Planned Parenthood or a rape crisis center may be mandatory reporters under varying state laws. If a person has privileged communication then any disclosure of a sexual assault is confidential and cannot be reported to the school without the survivor’s consent. However, it is imperative that before disclosing, survivors are well informed on who they can speak confidentially to and who may be a mandatory reporter.
7. How can I find advocates to assist me?
Finding an ally or activist that addresses racial and gender-based violence can be extremely difficult, especially on an HBCU campus. Many campuses may lack the necessary resources or student organization groups that is well-informed on campus sexual violence. The lack of proper resources and knowledge on Title IX is why it is extremely important for HBCU students to find a trustworthy ally. These advocates can be within or outside of your institution, faculty members, students, or someone trained in assisting students with different backgrounds and traumatic experiences. These people are usually a part of organizations on campus meant to support survivors, such as a peer-led anti-rape team, center for gender equality, or community based organizations to prevent sexual assault. Request that they serve as your advisors and campus advocates in order for them to serve in the on campus reporting process and hearing proceedings. Having additional support can be very beneficial to ensuring your institution properly handles your case and abide by Title IX law as well as providing supplementary aid and relief where necessary.
8. Where can I find more information about my rights?
Because institutions often do not provide accurate, culturally competent, or well-informed information when survivors file reports, it is easy to misinform a student of their rights and the school’s legal obligations. HBCU students are more misinformed about Title IX and their rights more so than their PWI counterparts due to the absence of HBCU sexual assault in the mainstream media. Thus, students should do some general research so they are familiar with their Title IX, Title VI, and Title II rights. You can read more here.