By Jack Heffernan
Higher education institutions like Portland State have made strides in the past couple of years to protect students of all gender identities and sexual orientations from sexual misconduct.
This June, in addition to the celebration of Pride Month, marks the 50th Anniversary of Title IX.
Passed on June 23, 1972, the piece of the Education Amendments Act states, “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.”
A milestone for women’s rights on college campuses, United States presidents have since offered varying interpretations of the legislation regarding protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. But the Supreme Court in 2020 ruled in a landmark decision that discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation meant inherently treating people differently on the basis of sex.
Later that year, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations addressing higher education institutions’ response to sexual harassment. This prompted PSU to implement a Title IX Sexual Harassment Policy, which was adopted in February. The university had previously covered sexual misconduct under the prohibited discrimination and harassment policy and code of student conduct. But new Title IX regulations required significant institutional changes, leading PSU and numerous other universities to create a separate policy relating specifically relating to sexual misconduct.
With federal laws now clearer about the inclusion of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in Title IX, LGBTQ+ members of the PSU are assured that this policy covers them.
A recent sexual misconduct campus climate survey conducted by PSU found that 41.2 percent of trans women student respondents had experienced sexual assault, along with roughly 26 percent of those with queer or pansexual sexual orientations.
Rebecca “Becca” Lawrence joined PSU in February as the Assistant Vice President of Equity and Compliance in the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion. Lawrence noted the broad scope of Title IX, which includes equal treatment, especially in employment, pay, harassment, and educational access; athletics; student and employee pregnancy discrimination; stalking; and campus sexual assault.
“My hope is that students know that the Office for Equity and Compliance is a resource to address these issues, in addition to other forms of discrimination and harassment based on protected class,” said Lawrence said. “One of the factors that attracted me to PSU are the resources available for students impacted by sexual misconduct, interpersonal violence and stalking,” Lawrence said.
Other resources include the Women’s Resource Center, which provides confidential advocacy services for students, regardless of gender; the CARE program, that assists students in crisis by addressing food insecurity, housing barriers, and academic matters; Student Legal Services, a resource for students who may need legal assistance or referral; along with the identity-specific support and communities like the Cultural Resource Centers, Veteran Resource Center, and Queer Resource Center.
For help regarding sexual misconduct, please pdx.edu/sexual-assault/get-help. More information about PSU and Title IX can be found on the Global Diversity & Inclusion website.