Making sexual assault prevention a central priority, and how to get help

As MIT’s Title IX Coordinator, it is my job to work with our community to ensure that MIT properly responds to complaints of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment.

While I cannot publicly discuss specific cases, I want the community to know that I read about Sheila Dwyer’s experiences in 2010 and 2011 and am sorry that she believes MIT could have done more to respond to her concerns of harassment. Anyone who encounters any form of sexual misconduct — whether it be harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or stalking — should know they can come to my office for assistance.

Sheila notes that MIT has made changes to how it responds to sexual misconduct complaints — changes we believe have encouraged more people to come forward — but we agree there is always more we can and will do to help those affected by sexual harassment and assault.

In 2014, President Reif asked Chancellor Barnhart to make sexual assault education and prevention a central priority, and she did. This started with several conversations with our community and a survey to assess the nature and extent of the problem of sexual assault at MIT. Over the last several years, the Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) survey has been informing our ongoing efforts to enhance prevention, education, and complaint handling policies.

I became the Title IX Coordinator when a stand-alone Title IX Office was created in 2015. Before that, I joined MIT in 2013 as our first full-time Title IX investigator. The Title IX Office is responsible for providing a consistent, campus-wide response to all allegations of sexual misconduct.

With the support of MIT’s senior leadership, MIT has made significant investments in preventing, educating, and responding to sexual misconduct. You can learn more about these comprehensive efforts on the website for the Office of the Chancellor. Some examples include:

—Staff increases in my office and in the office of Violence Prevention and Response;

—Expansions in education, training, and outreach programming across campus; and

—New streamlined reporting and discipline procedures to balance the needs and rights of all students involved in sexual misconduct cases.

In addition, throughout April, the entire MIT community will be coming together to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can learn more about how to show your support and take part by visiting elephant.mit.edu.

Some specific ways that the Title IX Office can help individuals, departments, or communities grappling with sexual misconduct are as follows:

—My staff and I will meet with you to discuss the range of available reporting options and possible remedies. Options include no contact orders, academic and housing accommodations, educational intervention, and filing a formal complaint of misconduct. The flowchart available on the Title IX webpage is a helpful guide.

—We understand that these cases are difficult and stressful. We give students information about campus and community resources (and can explain which ones are private and which are confidential) to support them throughout the process.

—Students who file a complaint and those who respond to a complaint have access to personal advisors who can guide them through the discipline process. We recently recruited a pool of trained staff from across the Institute who are now available to serve in this role.

—My staff and I conduct trainings that equip faculty and staff to respond to incidents of sexual misconduct, including ensuring they understand their reporting obligations and know how to support students.

More information about the Title IX Office can be found at titleix.mit.edu. Any member of the community who has questions or concerns should feel free to email me. My door is always open, and my staff and I stand ready to offer support and guidance.

Sarah Rankin is MIT’s Title IX Coordinator and can be contacted at srankin@mit.edu.

Anonymous about 8 years ago

I have zero faith in Ms. Rankin's ability to direct the Title IX office when:

1. The first Title IX investigation against MIT was opened nearly two years into her tenure (in August 2015), filed in complaint of actions directly undertaken by the MIT Title IX Office.

2. A Title IX investigation against Harvard University, where Ms. Rankin served as Director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention Response from Sept. 2006 - Sept. 2013, was opened in April 2014, which included testimonials from ten survivors alleging a pervasive rape culture. It stands to reason that a pervasive rape culture didn't spontaneously develop in the months following her departure from Harvard University.

Wherever Ms. Rankin goes, the Office for Civil Rights seems to follow. At the very least, it calls into question the wisdom of "staff increases in [her] office" and "new streamlined reporting and discipline procedures." Now the Title IX Office can dedicate more human resources towards violating Title IX more efficiently!

anonymous about 8 years ago

I am glad that Ms Rankin wrote this article and listed these improvements. Finding support is difficult and every effort should be made to increase awareness.