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A State-Level Look at Title IX Policies

Health, Safety, and Well-being Policy and Advocacy Region II
Christine Licata-Hoang University of Maryland, College Park

Title IX policy and compliance continues to be a pressing issue and hot topic at colleges and university across the US since its federal enactment in the 1970’s (Boba & Lilley, 2009; Cantor et al., 2020; Jessup-Anger, 2018, Marine, 2019). With subsequent policy enactment over the last 50 years, university administrators are focused on campus-wide compliance, community education, and trauma-informed resources. Yet students and community members point to Title IX’s many failures to effectively address sexual violence on college campuses. Sexual violence, harassment, and other forms of power-based violence continue to plague higher education.

Separately, given the political environment within the United States in the last several years, notably with recent legal decisions determined by the Supreme Court, more states are enacting state-level policies and laws when federal entities fail to guarantee certain rights or protections.  New York is one state that has enacted state-level Title IX policies for all institutions of higher education and was an early adopter in doing so (2015) (New York State Education Department, n.d.).  As recently as 2019, 95 bills were introduced in 27 states, including Washington, D.C., that dictated institutional responses around sexual misconduct; at least 16 of them passed (Sarubbi, 2019). As of this writing, 24 states have codified campus sexual assault policies (Kelley et al., 2022; Whinnery et al., 2019). These state-level Title IX policies have only begun to be empirically tested and evaluated for effect on campus-level sexual violence reporting (Licata-Hoang, 2022).

As an early adopter of a state-level Title IX policy, the efforts to address campus sexual violence in New York were spearheaded by the then-Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo launched a year-long public awareness campaign to educate students, stakeholders, and campus communities about the nation’s most stringent state-level Title IX policy to date. The bill nicknamed “Enough is Enough” is a comprehensive piece of legislation requiring all institutions within the state, regardless of the governing system (i.e., public, private, two- or four-year), to annually certify compliance via state-coordinated reporting mechanisms by producing an annual crime statistics report. Failure to obtain the yearly certification resulted in the withholding of “state aid or assistance” (New York State Office of Campus Safety, 2017, p. 12, para. 2). This law directed institutions to address campus sexual violence in a more specific way than the federal Title IX legislation (i.e., Title IX itself, Clery Act, Violence Against Women Act). Yet similarly, the New York policies mimic the national policy’s vague financial penalties for noncompliance.

Examining State-Level Policy Effects

As university stakeholders continue to question the effectiveness of federal, and now state-level level Title IX policies, we have to wonder what kind of impact they are having on the lived experiences of our students. Simply, did the NY statute cause a reduction of sexual violence reporting, and was less sexual violence happening on campuses? Did a state-level policy help reduce or eradicate the ever-present, and pressing issue plaguing campus communities? Does policymaking in this area make a difference?

To examine these questions, I conducted original research using several federal databases to look at university data for institutions in New York over ten years. Difference-in-differences regression is a quasi-experimental, causal inference technique used commonly in higher education research to examine the effect or impact of higher education policies. The purpose of utilizing DID models is to identify and measure an intervention’s average effect over time while examining similar outcomes for an untreated group over the same period (Lechner, 2011). In its simplest form, DID measures the average difference in sexual misconduct reporting scores in NY institutions after the state policy was enacted.  Further, this method capitalizes on the natural experiments that can take place in higher education: a state government implementing a policy; institutions unable to self-select into this “treatment” with some institutions being exempt from participation; and policymakers eager to see the effects of the legislation between the groups.

The variables included in the study included several campus-level data points occurring at on- or off-campus locations between 2010 and 2019 to understand what institutions were reporting, and how frequently incidents were happening. Included are 8 types of power-based violence recorded through annual Clery reports or Violence Against Woman Act reports), state funding sources (i.e., state appropriations, state grant dollars), enrollment patterns, and governing structures for four-year public institutions with 1,000+ full-time equivalent students in a given year. For this study, incident reports serve as the mechanism to measure behavior related to sexual violence on college campuses. Although research thoroughly documents why sexual violence incidents are underreported, the reports collected through the Campus Safety and Security database serve as the only national collection of sexual violence data reported from institutions every year to show how much violence is happening.

What Do the Numbers Say? Policy Effects on Campus-Based Reporting in New York

New York’s state law requires institutions of higher education to report sexual misconduct incident reports every year or they can lose state funding. After the legislation was implemented in 2015, sexual misconduct incident reports decreased by 11.163 (p < 0.05) reports per year on average when controlling for state appropriations, grant dollars, total enrollment, year, governance structure, and neighboring states (Licata-Hoang, 2022). Total incident reports did not have any significant relationships with any control variables when examining the policy effect within the context of neighboring states; in other words, the previously mentioned variables were not responsible for the decrease in incident reports. The reporting trend sharply increased from 2013 to 2014 and increased at a decreasing rate before declining in 2018.  At first glance, it appears that the presence of New York’s state-level Title IX policy led to reduced incidents of sexual misconduct on public four-year college campuses when controlling for several factors including region.

Examined within the context of a set of states that never adopted this type of state-level Title IX policy, total incident reports decreased slightly less -- by 5.027 reports (p < 0.05) when controlling for the same set of variables previously mentioned (Licata-Hoang, 2022). It appears as if the difference between New York and never-adopters grows larger after the implementation, and markedly so after 2017. From this, we would think that the enactment of the state Title IX policy is causing less sexual misconduct incidents to happen.

To make sure these trends were really happening, and not due to some statistical chance, placebo tests were conducted to help determine if any unaccounted aspects may drive a change in total misconduct incident reporting for public four-year institutions in the state of New York. When controlling for neighboring states and never-adopters, the placebo tests returned statistically significant results. This means that other factors are driving sexual misconduct incident reporting within the state and that the New York law was not the causal reason for reporting changes. Ultimately, New York Amendment 129-B did not have a real effect on sexual misconduct incident reporting at four-year public institutions within the state.

Would examining the data from a more granular level, from year to year instead of over a 10-year average, reveal a clearer picture of sexual violence on college campuses in New York? It is reasonable to assume that institutions within the state would better understand the policy over time, which means their reporting and compliance requirements would get better over time. This version of analysis follwed the same protocols and statistical analysis of the average treatment effect DID models, with the addition of examining the policy effect on a per-year basis instead of grouping all years.

I looked at the New York policy compared to neighboring states, and to states that never adopted a state-level Title IX policy across the country. Similar to previous testing, there seems to be some relationship between the legislation and reducing sexual misconduct on college campuses in NY. The policy effect was meaningful in some years, with a sharp increase in reporting in 2013 (β = -1.528, p < 0.01) and increased less rapidly after the policy implementation period (2015) before reporting declines in 2018 (Licata-Hoang, 2022). When examined in the context of a national set of never-adopters, the policy seemed to cause a decrease incident reports in the years immediately before the policy implementation (2013, 2014) and all post-implementation years (2015-2019).

Again, to verify these trends were not due to some statistical chance or the cause in change of sexual violence incidents was due to something unrelated, I conducted some placebo tests. The results of several tests verified that the increase in sexual misconduct incident reporting in New York public four-year institutions cannot be attributed to this specific state-level Title IX law, despite controlling for variables guided by policy and theory.

State Policies Might Just Signal Action to Constituents, Not Cause Real Change

This study demonstrated that we can’t attribute changes to sexual misconduct on colleges campuses to NY’s state Title IX law. Although the policy itself is not the cause for change, sexual misconduct incident reports increased over time in New York and then began declining after 2018. New York’s reporting rates were lower than its neighbors, or in states that never enacted this type of policy for all years – which is hopeful. When other states experienced increased reporting rates in 2018, New York’s reporting rates declined.

Simply, these state-level Title IX compliance pushes aren’t really about changing behavior on campus, they are focused on politicians signaling to their constitutions that they are “doing something” when pressed. This type of law demonstrates that legislators and policymakers are responding to widespread feedback that students, parents, and college community members are concerned about the prevalence of campus sexual violence, and they expect their state and university leaders to act.

Campus-Based Professionals as Agents of Change

The frequency of incident reports of sexual misconduct, and perhaps incidents themselves, is not reduced by state-level policies driving institutions to act. The continued messaging and emphasis placed on institutional compliance to reporting alone hinders campuses’ ability to allocate and divert resources to addressing the root cause of sexual violence: power-based and oppressive systems that live within our communities, even on college campuses. This NY policy does not necessarily require institutions to create an anti-power-based violence environment, remove barriers to reporting, or enable a warmer campus climate for those who may experience sexual violence. Campus leaders and professionals, however, can help create an anti-violence environment.

When institutions and the communities that operate within them are unburdened from a compliance-only mentality, the knowledge experts’ time, energy, and advocacy can be spent on bringing along their communities to engage in an abolitionist mindset: How can the system(s) around preventing, and even upholding, sexual violence be entirely re-imagined? When campus leaders create an environment where professionals are empowered to divest from the current broken systems, power-conscious, trauma-informed, collaborative solutions can be sought from all areas of the community. Investment from every level of the community is required to accomplish this, and our first responders and care teams can help direct and energize the efforts. Current systems continue to harm students and community members, and alternative methods of addressing campus-based sexual violence are imperative to the future of higher education.

Additionally, state-level politicking and policymaking, especially in higher education, is a new area not only to follow but also for educators and campus-based professionals to actively engage. It is not enough to allow “that center” or “that unit” across campus to engage with sexual violence prevention and education because it is their area of expertise. All stakeholders must see violence prevention and power-system dismantling as part of their role in participating in the college community. Students, staff, and faculty can benefit from learning about how sexual violence occurs among diverse communities, how to interrupt it, and how to support a survivor through healing. This policy experiment also emphasizes how important it is for campus-based professionals to amplify their voices to state-level decision-makers and policymakers. Our student affairs professionals provide essential contributions as responders, caregivers, and stakeholders assisting students through their experiences with this type of violence. They are uniquely positioned to share about the systems in place and how they can be changed for the better. The collective voice of violence prevention practitioners sheds light on the scope and nuance of the problems institutions may face with sexual misconduct and how both institution- and state-level interventions can work in concert to address campus violence more effectively. Campus professionals can shape the future of state-level or university-system initiatives.

Campus leaders must consider inviting students to be part of the policymaking and advocacy initiatives at the state level. Student trustees, student government officers, and student organizations with a focus on preventing campus sexual violence are also constituents of the state legislators. Who better to share about students’ experiences with campus sexual violence than the students themselves? Student affairs professionals are uniquely positioned to identify, coach, and help students organize advocacy efforts to have a wide reach beyond their own campus.

Even in the last several years, what has changed about Title IX is that students and campus community members are having more explicit conversations about consent, power-based actions and doing so specifically within relationships, and institutions of higher education. As the staff and faculty on our campuses, we must be ready, and critically well-informed, to assist our learners and the webs of individuals that come with them in the collegiate experience. How would the cultural shift from compliance to anti-violence help change the dominant intervention strategy? What would students gain from this shift in priorities when looking to “solve” campus sexual violence? These questions help advance the discussion of campus sexual violence by understanding the cost of the “compliance mentality,” and exploring the possibility of an abolitionist approach to the issue. Tackling campus sexual violence in meaningful ways requires scholars, practitioners, and decision-makers at all levels to critically consider abandoning previous methods of resolution for a more radical approach that truly affects students’ experiences in a healthier, positive, and preventative way. 

Further Information About the Study

Readers who would like to explore the data and specific analysis methods, please contact the author directly at [email protected].



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