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Empowering Our Members to Shape ATIXA’s Future

A Message from Saundra Schuster, J.D., ATIXA’s President

As the newly appointed President of ATIXA, I am deeply committed to supporting our members and the broader Title IX community. This commitment is not just a statement but a guiding principle that drives my actions. My top priority is listening to members and encouraging them to shape our future, especially as they navigate the implementation of the 2024 Title IX Regulations. Below is a reflection on ATIXA’s journey and an invitation for members to provide feedback to our team, enabling us to offer you the best support possible.

The Evolution of ATIXA

My journey began in student affairs, much like many of yours. For over 16 years, I served as a Student Affairs Dean at The Ohio State University (OSU). Initially, my sole responsibility was in student conduct (I was a founding member of the Association of Student Judicial Affairs—now the Association of Student Conduct Administration). I had the opportunity to meet W. Scott Lewis, J.D., a graduate student at the time, at an ASCA conference 30 years ago! While student conduct remained a part of my portfolio over my time at OSU, my role expanded substantially. My growing interest in Title IX, FERPA, and federal laws, notably the First Amendment, led me to a pivotal decision. I abandoned my doctoral program with a draft dissertation I had yet to defend and embarked on pursuing a law degree. At the time, my and my husband’s sons were in seventh and eleventh grade, and OSU allowed me to balance full-time law studies with part-time dean responsibilities. It was a challenge, but my legal studies reinforced my interest in the First Amendment, discrimination, employment, and civil rights, ultimately leading me to where I am today.

My next professional role was a nine-year stint as Senior Assistant Attorney General for Ohio, representing public colleges and universities and diving deep into civil rights, Title IX, ADA, and First Amendment issues. Brett A. Sokolow, J.D., and Scott were my professional peers during that time, and our friendship and mutual interests planted the seeds of how beneficial these insights could be when shared with others.

Meeting Brett was pivotal for my professional trajectory. Encountering him at conferences about 25 years ago, I was intrigued by his innovative, edgy approach and the way in which he captured and described issues that I also cared about. I eagerly attended his trainings. After introducing myself and spending lots of time with Brett in spirited debate, our partnership began, and we conducted nationwide training and webinars with Scott for the next several years.

Scott joined Brett’s National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) earlier than I did, because I sought one more practical experience to complete my immersion in the higher education world. I served in the role of General Counsel at Sinclair Community College for five years. This role provided extensive experience in addressing legal matters at a large community college. In 2009, I joined the NCHERM Partnership with Brett and Scott.

In 2009, our team offered trainings in two topical areas—sexual misconduct and behavioral intervention—and we founded our sister association, NABITA, the National Association for Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment. Addressing violence and behaviors indicating risk requires similar strategies for identification, assessment, and intervention. NABITA gained recognition in violence prevention and educational risk management.[1]

By 2011, we became known for our work on sexual misconduct, using Title IX and insights from the 2001 guidance. Brett had a big idea: create an organization to train Title IX Coordinators, acknowledging their growing importance. We launched ATIXA, the Association of Title IX Administrators, in the summer of 2011 and planned a five-day training for September 2011, optimistic for 50 attendees.

In the run-up to that event, the April 2011 Dear Colleague letter was released, transforming the Title IX landscape by emphasizing the key role of Title IX Coordinators. Brett’s prediction was spot on. Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a national press conference on the steps of the University of New Hampshire, announcing a new era of accountability for addressing sexual misconduct and discrimination at schools.

Instead of the anticipated 50 participants, over 300 people registered for our training, and we fit 150 attendees into the space. We ran trainings nationwide in each of the following three months, introducing a new chapter of demand for ATIXA’s indispensable services.

A Pledge to Provide Industry-Leading Resources

Our mission for ATIXA remains clear: to provide the most up-to-date support, training, templates, and guidance for Title IX professionals. Our dedication is not just a duty but a passion deeply aligned with our core values. ATIXA members can count on dedicated support, attention, and the latest updates. Our team engages in fervent discussions about regulatory scenarios, working hard and debating openly until we fully address the issues. We are committed to providing the field with industry-leading resources, compliance clarity, and best practices.

As a founding Advisory Board member, I can attest that our strategies and content have always undergone rigorous review and preparation. They’re the product of in-depth vetting and robust collaboration, ensuring our consultants are well-prepared and knowledgeable about our work. Now, as President, I’m more dedicated than ever and excited for what lies ahead.

Growth Through Member Needs

ATIXA’s consultants excel in assisting members with articulating their needs to their institution’s boards and senior leadership. My expertise lies in engaging directly with these boards and effectively communicating what resources, staffing, and budget are necessary to administer a Title IX program of excellence. If you require assistance preparing briefings for your boards and cabinet, please get in touch with us.

ATIXA’s mission also expands with the times. The recent political assault on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs underscores the urgent need for organizations like ATIXA to counter the degradation of civil rights. Political maneuvers undermine the essence of Title IX and the laws designed to protect civil rights in educational settings. As the leader of an organization devoted to sex and gender equity, my concern for civil rights is all-encompassing, including issues of race, national origin, and the rights of individuals with disabilities. ATIXA stands firm in its commitment to protecting civil rights.

Our ATIXA community now boasts more than 13,000 members, and the number is growing daily. Each member brings a unique focus driven by their interests, responsibilities, and roles. In my leadership role, my actions are guided by our members’ diverse needs and interests. I cherish my role in championing the needs of our members.

We Want Your Feedback!

The ATIXA team highly values your feedback, as it is not just important but essential in empowering our members to actively participate in shaping the future of our association. Your insights shared on our exclusive listserv, engagement in training sessions, questions posed to our faculty, and direct outreach all contribute significantly to our growth and relevance.

To gather qualitative feedback, we conduct a thorough survey every two years, known as ATIXA’s State of the Field survey, the only data collection of its kind. We value this feedback immensely, as it both shapes and reflects where the field is heading. We encourage our members to engage with us actively, and our highly skilled trainers and consultants are ready to meet your needs.

Don’t miss our Regulations-focused Time with IX sessions for members, where you can get answers to your 2024 Regulations questions.

Come to Philadelphia this October for an invaluable experience of networking, training, and certification at the 13th Annual ATIXA Conference.

[1] This underlying connection is why I am excited about the ongoing partnership with our sister organization, NABITA. This collaboration is pivotal, underscoring the indispensability of a unified approach to addressing and mitigating risks within educational environments.