Dear ATIXA Community,
Happy 50th to Title IX! My first encounter with Title IX was in 1991, when I was a sophomore at the College of William & Mary. A student I was dating had been sexually assaulted the previous semester and had gone through a hearing process (no investigation) which had resulted a slap on the wrist for the respondent. She was incensed, and we worked together to advocate for reform within the College’s conduct process. That effort fell on deaf ears. What was viewed as merely “date rape” at the time was not seen as real rape. Efforts I made as a student government officer produced platitudes from the administration, but no real change. My then-girlfriend went public to put pressure on the College, pled with members of the Board of Visitors, and tried to explain to the media why probation was not an appropriate sanction for a rape. It was an uphill battle to change public perceptions of rape, which at the time were still largely focused on stranger danger.
Frustrated with the bureaucracy of change, we visited nine different lawyers in Virginia, asking them to bring a lawsuit that would pressure the College toward needed reforms. Every legal door closed on us, with most of the lawyers telling us there was no recourse. I asked about Title IX and was told that Title IX provided no path to remedy and was largely about athletics. I was convinced that Title IX was capable of addressing sexual violence, but it was not until 1996 that the courts really started to embrace the protective legal canopy that we now expect from Title IX.
After college, I went off to law school bent on finding ways to ensure that Title IX’s protections were more broadly understood, adopted, and effectuated. I have never deviated from that commitment. The rest, as they say, is history. I have worked in this space for 24 years and have seen Title IX transformed into a tool for justice for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual violence. And a tool to redress the rights of respondents. Title IX is by no means perfect, and there is still much work to do. Progress and setbacks mark its history, but with each step back, I can sense two steps forward. Please join ATIXA in taking the next steps forward as we shape the next 50 years of Title IX’s efficacy together.
Brett A. Sokolow, J.D., President, Chair of the Board, TNG, and President, ATIXA