College will seek new Title IX coordinator, Pelton says

by Rebecca Fiore / Beacon Staff • April 3, 2014

Emerson College recently decided to hire a new Title IX coordinator, who would be the first administrator fully dedicated to the position, according to Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion. The post is currently held by Alexa Jackson, who is also the associate vice president for human resources.

The hire will be responsible for overseeing the school’s compliance with the federal gender equality law provisions, and coordinating investigations into reports of sexual harassment and assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking, said Spears.

President M. Lee Pelton said the decision was a collaborative effort between the senior administrators and himself.

“We needed more than one person to handle Title IX issues, especially with sexual assault,” he said. 

Spears said administrators have not yet established specific plans to search for candidates, since the approval to make the hire is new.

In April 2011, the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights updated its guidelines on how to implement Title IX, advising colleges to select an administrator to oversee their compliance with the law. At that point, Jackson obtained the job, said Spears.

“It was not at all unusual for colleges and universities to assign responsibility for Title IX coordination to existing positions,” said Spears. “The national trend is now moving toward the creation of dedicated positions for this purpose regardless of the size of an institution.”

Jackson said when she became Title IX coordinator, she did not fully understand what the position would entail. She said she had only three days of training before starting the position.

“When I first took the position, I knew that it was involved, but I did not understand what many schools across the countries were facing,” she said. “I realized that this position not only is very important, but also very involved.” 

Jackson said that in 2011, when she first attended a seminar on Title IX, she thought it would only address athletics programs and the NCAA, but found it was about having schools appoint a Title IX coordinator. 

“Following that seminar, we found that many other institutions were asked to take on additional responsibility. Emerson did not have a high number of complaints,” said Jackson. She said there were about two complaints of sexual assault per year at the college.

Sarah Tedesco, a co-founder of Emerson Stopping Sexual Assault, a student-run organization focused on supporting survivors and promoting a culture of consent, said she believes the new position was created in response to the Title IX complaints she and two other students filed in October.

“[Jackson] is the highlight of the complaints,” the sophomore journalism major said. 

Jackson declined to comment on the complaint. 

Spears said the reason for the new hire did not stem from any particular event, but was a logical progression for the college to follow. She said she thinks this change will allow Jackson to focus on her role in the office of human resources, and the new hire to focus on compliance with the federal law. 

“As the complexity of the federal requirements has increased, and certainly the number of reports of incidents has increased, we also need to increase our capacity,” said Spears.

According to Emerson College Police Department Chief Robert Smith, there were a total of 23 reports of sexual assault in 2013. So far, ECPD has received three reports of sexual assault in 2014.

Jackson said she agrees with Pelton and Spears that the school needs to have a dedicated individual to take on the role, since reports of sexual assaults have increased, and said she will would help the new coordinator once hired.

“The fact that they are willing to dedicate a full-time resource shows that the senior leadership really gets it,” said Jackson.