Statistics presented in the recently published 2022 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report
came as a shock for many within the NYU Abu Dhabi community. While some students saw a far-too-high number of reports, others felt that the figures presented were unrepresentative of the true extent of cases on campus, highlighting Title IX as a flawed system of reporting.
This year, a Town Hall with Kate Satin — the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at NYU New York — served as Sexual Respect Awareness Week’s centrepiece, with a training session for student leaders featured on the program’s periphery. However, despite a comprehensive postering campaign and dutiful reminders about the event posted on online student forums, the attendance at the Town Hall was far lower than anticipated. In addition to an underwhelming turnout, the demographics of the students who chose to sit in on the talk were noticeably skewed.
“Personally, I was struck by looking around the room and seeing mostly female identifying students,” expressed Sanam Parwani, Class of 2024 and a member of REACH (Raising Empowered Advocates for Community Health).
Naturally, this poor participation and the disparity in representation within it raises some questions about the effectiveness of our campus’ efforts to enhance sexual respect awareness and consent education. “The people who most need education around what’s a violation, what’s consent, what consent really means, are not the kind of people who would go for these kinds of events,” commented Tan Zhong Chen (Zack), Class of 2023.
The Town Hall’s low turnout could ostensibly be attributed to students’ understandable decisions to spend their Tuesday evening working on assignments, or to attend SLICE’s screening of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. However, it also seems to coincide with a campus wide hesitance to engage with Title IX, whether due to feeling that the policy is inapplicable or irrelevant, or simply due to a lack of knowledge of the Title IX office and its scope. Sameera Singh, Class of 2022, was first exposed to Title IX while working with the Student Government’s Health and Wellness Committee, “That’s when I encountered it for the first time. I was very shocked that we had that kind of mechanism, and I was also very shocked at how little people know about it.”
Despite administrative efforts to increase awareness, information about Title IX is far from widespread across the student body. Knowledge of the policy remains confined to students who hold certain leadership positions on campus and have had access to additional training sessions such as the one held on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the day after the Town Hall. “I was grateful that I was able to make it,” said Ribka Tewelde, Class of 2023. “[Kate Satin] went through the assessment meeting, all the way through to the appeals process, which was genuinely wonderful. I think I have a lot more of a technical understanding of what’s happening.”
Undeterred by its peripheral position to the town hall, and possibly due to its focused nature and higher comparative turnout, the student leader training was helpful to those who attended. This was true not only in terms of increasing awareness and understanding, but also in (at least partly) dispelling the cloud of skepticism, suspicion, and wariness that the policy is often shrouded in.
Title IX has a reputation amongst the general student body for hosting an opaque, inefficient, or difficult procedure. This reputation, whether accurate or not, tends to precede it: “My initial opinions [of Title IX] were definitely driven by my university friends when I was in high school,” said Tewelde. “They definitely did not feel as though people were getting the justice that they deserved.”
“I’ve heard of times where people didn’t feel like they were served justice … they didn’t feel like they were duly heard,” echoed Singh.
These negative sentiments lie simmering beneath many of the conversations we have about Title IX as a student community. “We’ve been critical about it within our friend circles,” Singh noted, regarding her discussions with other student leaders, “Title IX comes up very, very often, and a lot of times it comes up as a pain point.”
Such conversations, about a lack of knowledge and widespread information, and about Title IX’s position as a “pain point,” have the potential to drive a double edged sword. On one hand, they present vital critiques of a system that exists to serve and protect our community and can only benefit from feedback on how to improve. They put its weaknesses at the forefront of student discourse, bringing them to the attention of the NYU administration.
However, on the other hand, these conversations are most effective when laced with an understanding and acknowledgement of the vital role that the policy plays: “It has [also] come up as something that’s very, very important, and necessary, and that we need to know more about as a community,” Singh continued. Without this nuance, and acknowledgement, we run the risk of creating an echo chamber in which skepticism and hesitance dominate Title IX’s narrative, further discouraging the NYUAD community from attending town halls or training and generally learning more about the policy. This does our community a major disservice.
“I think town halls and training are necessary about Title IX if we want all students to know on this campus who they can go to in terms of resources. In terms of knowing next steps, these trainings or town halls are a really good way for us to share the information with our peers, and get face to face time with Kate Satin, maybe build an understanding with her,” said Parwani.
Student perceptions and varying levels of knowledge of Title IX paint a complex narrative shaped by feelings of uncertainty and disappointment, critiques of an inefficient and difficult process, a resigned tolerance of the system, and occasionally a quiet sense of optimism that Title IX can be improved. Having these critical conversations, while acknowledging the essential work that the Title IX office does, is perhaps the best we can currently do as a student body to work toward ensuring a certain level of protection for victims of sexual assault on our campus.
Right now we have town halls, and training available to us as tools that we can use to build this greater level of understanding and foster more informed, nuanced conversation. With this as a starting point, we can hopefully start to chip away at the position Title IX holds as an intimidating, bureaucratic structure, emphasize the fact that harmful behaviors will be met with repercussions, and then work toward building a greater system of accountability within our own community.
Louise Simpson is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email her at email@example.com