"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...." 20 U.S. Code § 1681
With those words defining the federal law known as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 has come a civil rights effort aimed at leveling the playing field in American education. Passed in 1972, the law not only focuses on protecting equity in athletics, but also on providing access to academic opportunities (especially in the science, engineering, technology and math fields) and resources relating to sexual misconduct.
At East Carolina University, Title IX officers and a variety of programs serve students, faculty and staff--including victims of sexual violence--in need of help. Please explore the resources available to the ECU community by visiting these websites:
Title IX Online: This site explains the law and its implementation at ECU, as well as provides information on resources including those relating to sexual misconduct.
Students having difficulties at college is nothing new. But efforts to spot and help students who go beyond the usual stresses of university life have gained ground in recent years.
ECU Cares is an anonymous way students, staff, faculty members and others can immediately seek help or report concerning behavior. It connects the university community directly with campus resources for a wide variety of support services. The ECU Cares hotline is 252-737-5555 and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"We want to make sure everyone is doing well and being successful," said Travis Lewis, associate dean of students at ECU and one of the leaders of ECU Cares. "The good student who stops coming to class, has disjointed thoughts, is self-medicating, makes references to weapons or harm to self -- these kinds of things are red flags that someone is in distress."
Originally serving as a resource to report a person of concern following the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007, in spring 2015, ECU Cares was expanded from a program within the Dean of Students office to a campus-wide initiative. The website -- www.ecu.edu/ECUCares -- was revamped and launched in January and serves as a portal for the university community including a comprehensive list of official ECU reporting options.
Visitors can browse a series of topics from anxiety to bullying and from stress to sexual abuse to find quick access to the program or department where they can get guidance, advice or take action. The ECU Cares website is intended to be the singular place where students, as well as faculty and staff, can seek information and get immediate assistance from campus experts and professionals.
When behavior is reported, if the worry is that the person might be a threat to a member or members of the campus community, the University Behavioral Concerns Team assesses the threat and takes appropriate action. For behavior where no threat is seen but significant concerns exist regarding the individual and his or her well-being, the team will intervene and provide resources and support.
"The entire campus community has a responsibility for reporting concerning behavior and keeping our campus safe," Lewis adds.
In fiscal year 2012-2013, ECU Cares assisted 235 students, Lewis says. "That's 235 students who wouldn't have gotten the help they needed otherwise," he says.
The university continually works to strengthen communication with students, the entire ECU community and our external partners. Safety will always be the highest priority at East Carolina University.
Preventing sexual violence on college campuses has become a focus of federal authorities and university leaders. In January 2014, President Barack Obama announced a task force to combat sexual violence on the nation's campuses.
It's also a serious matter at ECU.
"I am to be notified," ECU Police Chief Gerald Lewis says when an allegation of sexual violence occurs. "I don't care what time it is or what day it is. It is taken very seriously. People trust us to provide a safe environment for our students and their loved ones."
When sexual violence happens on a college or university campus, it is a law enforcement issue as well as a federal issue due to statutes addressing sex discrimination, which includes sexual violence, at educational institutions.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires colleges and universities to provide equal educational opportunities in education and activities for men and women and designate a Title IX officer responsible for coordinating the university's compliance programs. Court cases in the 1990s established that Title IX also covers sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus.
"We think about it with sports," Kristen Bonatz, associate university attorney at ECU, says of Title IX, "but it's more general than that. It's women's access to higher education. That's the connection."
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, passed in 1990, requires educational institutions to track and disclose crime data, including sex offenses. The act was named after Clery, a Lehigh University student who was asleep in her room when a fellow student forced his way in and raped, tortured and strangled her.
The federal Department of Education enforces Title IX and the Clery Act.
In 2011, in its "Dear Colleague" letter, the department's Office for Civil Rights reminded universities that under Title IX "the sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students' right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime."
In May 2014, the OCR announced it was investigating 55 colleges and universities--big and small, public and private--over their handling of sexual abuse complaints.
ECU Police and the Division of Student Affairs, working with student organizations, have raised awareness of sexual violence on campus for several years with annual events such as "Take Back the Night" and "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes." University leaders are also making the issue a priority.
"We need to hit it head on," said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs. According to the National Institute of Justice, "... several studies indicate that a substantial proportion of female students--between 18 and 20 percent--experience rape or some other form of sexual assault during their college years." At ECU, from 2010 to 2012, reports of forcible sex offenses on campus climbed from four to 11. Whether that indicates an increase in the crime or an increase in reporting isn't clear.
Heather Littleton, an associate professor of psychology at ECU and sexual violence expert, calls sexual violence a "major public health issue" that is often kept secret.
"A lot of women who have been sexually assaulted don't feel comfortable seeking in-person therapy for a variety of reasons," Littleton says. "It's unfortunately way too common, but it's still something people don't want to talk about and deny. Over half of them don't consider what happened to them to be rape or even a crime."
ECU has worked during the last few years to encourage reporting through educational programs, outreach and improving the reporting process. LaKesha Alston, associate provost for equity and diversity, serves as Title IX coordinator. She agrees that it might seem odd that an administrator would get involved in what seems like a police matter, but she says police are limited in their jurisdiction to provide "interim measures" to maintain a safe and equitable campus environment.
"'Who's going to help with all the things I'm dealing with on campus?'" she says a student might ask. "'Who's going to assist me with the taunting or teasing? Who's going to help me deal with this person being in the same residence hall as I am?'
"The criminal system has limitations in the ways law enforcement agencies can address sexual assault on college campuses," Alston says. "Title IX has really called for increased prevention and response efforts for the campus as well as enhancing critical partnerships with campus and local police departments."
Alcohol is also in the crosshairs for its connection to sexual violence. In a 2004 study using data from three Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys, one in 20 women reported being raped. Of those, 72 percent experienced rape while intoxicated.
"There's a big, big correlation between alcohol abuse and sexual assaults," says Brent Herron '77, vice president of campus safety and emergency operations for the University of North Carolina system. "That's a big deal" and a focus of the UNC system, he says.
Bill Koch, associate vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, has worked at "aid stations" on weekends downtown and has escorted students home himself. He stresses that students should travel in groups, be aware of who's around them and take other precautions.
"The person who commits the crime is to blame," he says. "But we need to reduce our risk if we can. There are predators out there, and they are looking for easy targets."
Information about what victims of sexual violence should do at ECU is online at ecu.edu/cs-acad/titleix/resources.cfm. In short, call 911, call the ECU Police at 252-328-6787 and seek medical attention.