The Advancements of Title IX and College Sexual Assault

The Evolving Role of Title IX On U.S. college campuses, one in five female students will be directly affected by sexual assault. To what extent is a university responsible for protecting its students from sexual misconduct? Academic institutions face this question as they seek to curb evolving forms of sexual assault and harassment. However, the […]

To Put This in Context:

Since its implementation in 1972, Title IX has evolved in its effort to foster equal opportunity and prevent sexual discrimination. While success has been achieved on numerous fronts, transgender rights, social media, legal backlash, and other emerging issues have heightened the challenges for Title IX. By studying these challenges, college administrators and executives can protect students while enforcing a safe campus atmosphere.

The Evolving Role of Title IX

On U.S. college campuses, one in five female students will be directly affected by sexual assault. To what extent is a university responsible for protecting its students from sexual misconduct? Academic institutions face this question as they seek to curb evolving forms of sexual assault and harassment. However, the victims of these attacks called upon an unlikely ally: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Title IX was established by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to:

  • Prevent sexual discrimination
  • Foster equal opportunities in academics and school athletics

Title IX has evolved over the past four decades to hold schools accountable for the safety of their female students. But is it working?

The Fundamentals of Title IX


Under Title IX, academic institutions must provide equitable treatment, funding, and opportunities for male and female student activities to preserve a level playing field for all students. The law has proven a resounding success in many ways:

  • The number of female athletes competing in NCAA schools increased from 30,000 to nearly 200,000 between 1972 and 2012. [1]
  • High school girls participating in varsity sports increased from 7% in 1971 to 41.5% in 2001. [1]
  • Currently, 99% of schools have a women’s basketball team, 95.7% offer women’s volleyball, 92% offer women’s soccer, and 89.2% offer women’s softball. [1]

Did you know?

Title IX asserts that

“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.” [2]

Holding Universities Accountable

Since female college students now outnumber their male counterparts by a wide margin, equal representation is no longer the most pressing issue for Title IX. The greatest challenge for collegiate institutions it to create an environment in which women have security from physical harm and verbal hostility. As a result, Title IX has been expanded to address the concerns associated with administrative apathy — or in some cases, even collusion — in sexual assaults, bullying, and social media harassment.

Did you know?

In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden introduced the Title IX sexual violence guidance, which holds campus police and officials accountable for upholding sexual violence policies. When a school or university “knows or reasonably should know” about a hostile environment, it must “take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” [3]

Title IX in the Age of Social Media

Anonymous online harassment remains an ongoing — and largely unregulated — concern. But as awareness spreads among academic institutions, so does reform.

In 2015 at the University of Mary Washington, students used an anonymous social media app called Yik Yak to verbally assault and even threaten sexual violence against members of the campus’ Feminists United organization [4]. When the university failed to take action, the victims sought representation from a civil rights attorney. The case received national attention, which led to an appeal all the way up to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The case received national attention and helped guide academic institutions on how to satisfy Title IX responsibilities in the age of social media.

Since then, many universities have banned Yik Yak from their Wi-Fi networks, and some institutions have even set up digital “geo-fences” that block users from accessing the app anywhere within the vicinity of the campus. [4][5]

Title IX in High-Profile Sexual Assault Cases


Art Briles, former head football coach at Baylor University, was fired this year as a result of mishandling sexual assault allegations against women by players.

Hernandez v. Baylor

One of the most high-profile Title IX cases is Hernandez v. Baylor. In 2012, a Baylor University student named Jasmin Hernandez was sexually assaulted by Tevin Elliott, a member of the university’s football team. Hernandez sued the university for failure to comply with Title IX law and specifically for failure “to properly train and educate their employees … in appropriate response to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and retaliatory conduct.” [6] Baylor had no Title IX officer at the time of the incident.

Simpson v. University of Colorado

In an earlier 2005 case, a former University of Colorado student named Lisa Simpson sued her alma mater for likewise failing to address the sexually hostile campus environment in which she had been harassed and assaulted. Her assault took place at a party and was carried out by several members of the university football team. Simpson reported the assault to the chancellor for student affairs and the director of the Office of Victim Assistance, but the university declined to pursue sexual assault charges. After a lengthy Title IX lawsuit, the university agreed to pay Simpson a $2.5 million settlement.
Although Title IX has proven instrumental in giving a voice to victims of assault, discrimination, and harassment, many accused perpetrators are fighting back:

  • In April, 2016, the California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a male student who sued the University of Southern California after being suspended for allegedly assaulting a woman during a sexual encounter. [7]
  • In 2013, a Florida State University student named Erica Kinsman accused Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston — who was also a student at the time — of sexual assault. Although Winston was never charged, he is now countersuing Kinsman for defamation. [8] [9] Kinsman’s story is the subject of a documentary, “The Hunting Ground.”
  • Paul Nungesser, a former Columbia student accused of sexually assaulting fellow classmate Emma Sulkowicz, stated that his presumption of guilt and treatment amid false accusations constituted unlawful sexual discrimination. The claim was cited after Sulkowicz made headlines for carrying a mattress around campus in protest for two semesters. Nungesser was deemed “not responsible” for the assault, but he argued that university officials looked the other way as he subsequently faced ridicule and scorn from his peers. [10]

Did you know?

U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods, who dismissed Nungesser’s case, expressed concern about the notion of allowing Title IX claims to be made by male students accused of sexual assault. Woods argued that such allowances would create “a new right of action under which all students accused of sexual assault could bring a Title IX claim against their educational institutions” all because the institution failed to silence their accusers. [10]

Title IX and Transgender Rights

Transgender students are also at the center of a growing number of Title IX claims. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a set of updated Title IX guidelines that explicitly state that transgender students are entitled to the same protections as all other students. This clarification has been instrumental in securing successful claims on behalf of transgender students like Gavin Grimm, who sued the Gloucester County, Virginia, school system after being denied the right to use the restroom aligned with his gender identification. [11]

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory made headlines in March after signing House Bill 2, which decreed that individuals may only use public restrooms that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate regardless of current gender identity. The Justice Department has filed a suit against the state of North Carolina, arguing in part that the state’s new restroom law is in violation of Title IX since public schools and universities would be subject to its discriminatory limitations. [12]

The Future of Title IX

Campus sexual assault remains an ever-present problem in the U.S. But thanks to the high-profile nature of recent cases and expanded protections like the Title IX sexual violence guidance, progress is being made. Baylor University recently fired its football coach and its president for failing to adequately address Jasmin Hernandez’s sexual assault accusations, and other campuses like the University of Tennessee are being required to implement and enforce new Title IX policies in light of their own sexual assault scandals. Title IX still has the potential to enhance life on college campuses for generations to come, but vigilance is necessary to ensure that colleges comply with the spirit and letter of the law.

Lee Williams

Associate Copywriter

Lee is a marketing and communications professional at Context and is also an avid fiction and nonfiction writer. His expertise includes education and social commentary as told through personal narratives. Lee’s work has appeared in Forbes, SUCCESS Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Connect with him on Twitter @Lee_Wms.