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Tuesday, December 9, 2014
FOI Toolbox

Exposing the secret world of Title IX

By Ashley Jost

As more Title IX cases sprout up across the country, bringing to life a series of sexual discrimination issues on college campuses, journalists are reminded how crucial it is to have an arsenal of context waiting for when that big story drops.

Only 12 percent of victims on college campuses report to law enforcement the fact they were assaulted, according to a January 2014 White House sexual assault report. With that statistic alone there is at least one pending story for journalists on and around college campuses.

The government, of course, doesn’t make it easy. As Frank LoMonte, Student Press Law Center executive director, told me, “by design, Title IX is a confidential process,” and therefore it’s really difficult to navigate.

“In the absence of the Department of Education or an individual institution coming forward, or an individual bringing forward a civil lawsuit, there’s very little a journalist can write about,” he said. No pressure or anything.

Here are some tips on cracking Title IX and exposing the secretive world of sexual discrimination on college campuses:

• Run the name of your neighboring institution(s) through the courthouse regularly. I actually put it on my calendar to check the state and federal court systems for any new cases every other Monday.

• Another request I’ve made, though I have yet to receive the records to say how successful the request was, is for all complaint documents (very vague) filed to the U.S. Department of Education about a particular institution. I was told by a representative who did a preliminary search just how many complaints to expect, which was great. I don’t know what to expect with this, but I do know I plan to make the same request at least every quarter to stay afloat.

• A great tip from LoMonte: “It’s always important to try to argue that once you take the individual’s personal details out of a record, it’s not confidential anymore.” His suggestion was to ask for redacted records if you’re tracking down something statistical and are being shot down because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

• Of course we all know Title IX isn’t just about sexual assault. There are also caveats addressing gender discrimination in college athletics, another story almost anyone at or near an institution can explore. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education or interact on Twitter: @ajost

has a great database of athletics data divided by school, conference and several other factors.

• The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management has a great catalog of cases related to Title IX — and divided by the type of issue under the law — for all of the schools that have had complaints filed against them. It’s definitely worthwhile to check the context for the school you’re covering.

• Similar to the intent of Title IX, the Clery Act requires higher education institutions that receive financial aid to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics. It’s worth noting that those statistics can differ from the uniform crime reporting statistics.

We know there are untold stories on all college campuses. Hopefully with the right resources, we can do our part to hold administrators accountable in reporting processes and help those who never report feel safe enough to come forward. Comfort the afflicted, right?

Ashley Jost is the higher education reporter at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Mo., and a member of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee. Contact her at jost.ashley@gmail.com. On Twitter: @ajost @ajost

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