Respect, Dignity, and Justice: Getting at the Heart of Title IX

by Cynndie Hoff

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 ESV

Long before humans enacted nondiscrimination laws, God established His design for the equal treatment of all people. Not surprisingly, the world thought it had a better plan. Among myriad deviations from the Creator’s original intent, women have historically been relegated to second-class citizenship in the name of cultural customs, religious beliefs, and the unchallenged status quo. To prevent such discrimination in education, whether intentional or unintentional, individual or systemic, Title IX, part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, lays out the law for all administrators, educators, and students by legislating policies and behaviors. While Azusa Pacific complies with the letter of the law, its community members aspire to the higher calling of the spirit of the law, choosing to embrace God’s perfect plan by honoring His creations with respect and dignity.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” said Christine Guzman, APU’s Title IX coordinator. “APU’s work in this area involves much more than merely complying with the law, it is complying with who we are as a Christian university and reflecting our values, which are based on Scripture.” This perspective clarifies the mandate’s purpose for the APU campus community members tasked with interpreting the law. As written, Title IX states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Prima fascie, it seems straightforward, but in the current social climate, which includes the #MeToo (anti-sexual-assault) and #TimesUp (female empowerment) movements, Title IX has been required to do some pretty heavy lifting. What began as a law to ensure that women had equal opportunities to participate on sports teams now encompasses a broad spectrum of rights and protections in the areas of leadership, academics, athletics, and sexual safety and justice. On the APU campus, Guzman collaborates with multiple departments, areas, and individuals to ensure that all who live, work, and study at visit

Azusa Pacific University experience the community’s clear commitment to Imago Dei—the concept that each person bears the image of God and thus deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

Accountable Leadership

No person, place, or institution is perfect, including churches and Christian college campuses. Those serious about striving for Christ’s ideal, however, establish programs, policies, and systems to ensure best outcomes. “At APU, we expect all employees to conduct themselves appropriately, and we provide multiple tools to assist them in doing so, including training,” said John Baugus ’83, executive director of human resources. Every full- and part-time APU employee participates in two mandatory training sessions: Respect and Esteem and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These sessions offer detailed, and often eye-opening, information about how to define, identify, prevent, and report injustices. “It is critical that we work together to be informed and vigilant about recognizing and abstaining from harassment and discriminating behavior, and that we report such conduct immediately when we become aware of it, so that we can stop the behavior and prevent its recurrence, assist those impacted, and hold accountable those found responsible,” said Baugus.

During this training, employees learn of the many resources available to address concerns and how to report them to a supervisor, human resources personnel, or the Title IX coordinator. For anonymous complaints, they can access, which provides a discreet reporting method. Further, the Azusa Pacific Employee Handbook and Title IX Policy offer faculty and staff extended details about policies and procedures, as do the Living Our Promise guidelines, available on the Total Access employee portal.

Academic Impartiality

While Title IX clearly covers the rights of men and women to access the same academic classes and programs, it does not legislate every possible situation that arises for women in higher education. APU’s Office of Women’s Development helps bridge any gaps by supporting women on campus. The staff “provides direction, education, encouragement, support, and connections for undergraduate women in the APU community” through various programs, including the Clothesline Project, a national event that allows survivors of domestic violence to express their experiences by decorating a shirt to hang on a clothesline in Seven Palms Amphitheater, with each T-shirt telling an individual’s story. The weeklong event includes seminars and guest lecturers and raises awareness of sexual violence.

At the graduate level, where many students are in a life stage that includes growing families, Title IX and APU’s policies engage to protect students and help them thrive. “It starts with relationships,” said Kimberly Setterlund, MSW, LCSW, director and assistant professor, Master of Social Work program. “Of course, there is paperwork and protocol, but we don’t see our students as ‘cases.’ Graduate school has enough challenges of its own; the last thing students need is more anxiety. We make sure that our students know our expectations, and part of that is a high priority on communication. If something comes up, they know they can and should come talk to us. These are working professionals, many with spouses and families—life happens, and we want to empower our students to make the best decisions for their lives.”

The Learning Enrichment Center (LEC), a primary resource for students with extenuating life circumstances, offers a host of options for navigating the education journey. Working with these professionals not only provides accommodations when needed, it also protects students’ rights. For instance, a woman who becomes pregnant during her course of study may opt to remain or to take a leave of absence or a deferral, or to withdraw. The LEC staff and the faculty members rally around the individual in support of their goals and wishes.

Athletic Equity

Athletics, one of the bill’s primary areas of focus, constitutes a foundational aspect of Title IX. According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Department of Education, there are three basic parts of Title IX related to athletics. First, participation: The law requires that men and women be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports (not identical sports, but equal opportunity to play). Second, scholarships: Student-athletes, male and female, must receive athletic scholarship dollars proportional to their participations. And third, provisions: Female and male student-athletes must have equal access and treatment regarding equipment, supplies, facilities, travel allowances, housing, publicity, etc. These stipulations are well known and universally understood.

But Azusa Pacific seeks more than balanced numbers. “We want to make our athletic programs show God-honoring value to all our student-athletes,” said April Hoy ’95, a Title IX deputy coordinator who is also associate athletic director, head athletic trainer, and director of sports medicine and wellness. “When we developed our programming related to Title IX and sexual assault, we gathered leaders from the Title IX committee, Student Life, and the Office of Campus Pastors to put together a program that went beyond the letter of the law. We decided to be proactive to educate our student-athletes not only on Title IX but also on the biblical view of relationships, sex, honoring one another, and family. Our student-athletes are seen as leaders on campus, and therefore they are held to a higher standard.”

Each year begins with in-depth, earnest discussions with every team about the privilege of membership. “We rally around the concept that each time we go out into the community as a group or as individuals, we represent our teammates, our coaches, even President [Jon R.] Wallace,” said Hoy. Along with that accountability comes an equal responsibility to care for one another. “We encourage our players to help their teammates make good choices and stop them when they are tempted to make bad ones.”

The Student Code of Conduct covers several areas, including alcohol and drug use and sexual harassment and assault. The Athletics Department takes these issues seriously and conducts mandatory sessions every fall and spring to educate players and remind coaches about federal law and Azusa Pacific’s expectations. “We talk about what the law says about sexual assault, and we make sure they know this is a roster they never want to see their name on,” said Hoy. “We walk them through bystander training and teach them how to identify and prevent assault. We discuss the definition of consent, what to do when alcohol is involved, and who they can go to for help. And Athletics doesn’t do this in isolation; the offices of Student Life and Campus Pastors partner with us to get the message to each player.”

In addition, individual coaches engage in one-on-one conversations with their players and set high standards for the way they behave and treat one another. Head baseball coach Paul Svagdis, on a mission to change the culture of “locker room talk,” decided to focus on this issue with the same intensity his players exhibit on the field every day. “I told my team that I am passionate about this,” he said. “But I realized that maybe some of them don’t even understand the issues in the media and on campuses everywhere. So I invited Christine Guzman to come talk to us and give us an overview of the problems. Then we talked about what our roles are as men.”

Svagdis gave legs to his philosophy by having his players attend Stand Up for Your Sister. This annual, three-night event begins with a gathering of only female community members who share their stories of sexual assault and fill out anonymous questionnaires regarding their experiences. The next evening, the men’s teams enter the room and each male player receives one of the questionnaires. They stand one by one and read the women’s accounts out loud. “I watched my guys reading the stories and saw how it impacted them emotionally and physically,” said Svagdis. “It was powerful for each one of them. They said things like, ‘I never realized what girls feel and go through’; ‘It makes me question what kind of role model I am to my little sister.’ That night changed them forever.” As they stood in the place of a fellow APU athlete, each one pledged to stand up for their sisters in every situation and to fight for them with confidence and resolve, with a goal of ensuring that all women feel safe and respected.

Sexual Safety and Justice

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the country’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization, one in five women experiences assault or unwanted touch. That unacceptable statistic serves as a powerful motivator to strengthen efforts to protect and support women everywhere. At APU, every first-year, transfer, and graduate student must complete mandatory online training about alcohol and sexual assault before matriculation, learning tools and techniques that help them make informed decisions that promote a safe and healthy environment. “Whenever we hold Title IX training sessions, the audience fully engages in the discussion, and many people experience ‘aha’ moments,” said Guzman. “This training clarifies the issue of sexual violence, causing people to think about becoming active in addressing the problem. We talk about affirmative consent—it’s not about no; it’s about yes. We talk about changing our attitudes toward women—and toward men. We discuss rape culture, which puts the gatekeeping responsibility on women, and leads to victim blaming, which leans on language such as, ‘Well, look at what she was wearing.’” Guzman and her colleagues across campus know that education is an important part of the solution, but zero tolerance and strict enforcement must support it. APU follows a detailed protocol to ensure that all community members are treated with respect, dignity, and justice.

The Title IX process begins when an individual comes forward with a complaint. Those identified as responsible employees train annually on how to respond to these reports. Responsible employees include faculty, Office of Residence Life staff, student leaders, and employee supervisors. Response to complaints depends on the role of the person receiving the information—campus safety, student life, human resources, and women’s development personnel are considered private sources, but not confidential; confidential sources include university counselors, campus pastors, heath center staff, and chaplains.

Continual Research

In addition to the robust campus community programs, Azusa Pacific also invests in training future professionals who stand to shape campus cultures for generations to come. In the Master of Science in College Counseling and Student Development program, graduate students preparing for careers that directly connect them with college students learn how to navigate the ever-changing landscape of university life and how Title IX applies. “Every campus must have a way to respond to sexual assault and other Title IX issues, and it’s different on every campus,” said Kandy Mink Salas, PhD, program director, MS in College Counseling and Student Development, and assistant professor, Department of Higher Education. “Each case calls for responses that fit the circumstances. Regardless, strict protocol must be followed to ensure the fair treatment of all parties.” Although not licensed experts, student life professionals are often the first resource college students confide in when faced with a traumatic event, so graduate students in this program receive training in counseling and advising to equip them to guide students mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically through the process and refer them to other professionals when necessary.

At the doctoral level, a recent graduate from the Department of Higher Education conducted original research that further explores these important topics. Neil Best, PhD ’18, wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Campus Climate Matters: Predictors of the Prevalence of Sexual Violence Victimization.” While traditional approaches to the problem of campus sexual assault focus on the characteristics of the perpetrators, Best looked at it from a novel perspective: campus climate. He surveyed 6,643 students from 38 institutions, including 15 members of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), 15 non-faith-based private schools, and 8 public schools nationwide. His research revealed nine implications for institutions of higher education, and Best recommends that universities stop focusing only on violent acts of sexual assault: More than 96 percent of sexual assault survivors report a history of additional forms of abuse, such as harassment or unwanted touch. Less severe forms metastasize into violence if unchecked. He also calls for administrators to broaden the conversation. Too many focus on the national norm statistic that states one in five students will disclose being a victim or survivor of sexual assault, which ignores individual campus factors, such as peer groups and subcultures, that account for the risk of sexual assault. He further encourages larger institutions to emphasize a sense of community, because he found that smaller campuses and those with lower student-to-faculty ratios experienced fewer instances of sexual assault. Another finding showed that an increase in the diversity of and representation on campus advisory panels that include minority voices facilitates institutional credibility and more respect for those traditionally victimized.

Best’s research revealed important implications for college campuses everywhere, but also had a profound effect within his own family. The father of two young girls, Best knows that his study stands to directly impact his daughters’ lives. With that in mind, he invited them on stage with him as he presented his dissertation to APU faculty. He knelt before them as parents do when they talk to their children, and explained the results of all his hard work in terms they would understand. “Too many people who go to college get hurt,” he explained to them. “If we can figure out why, we can make college safer. I found out that the type of school matters. That the more teachers there are, the fewer people get hurt. Also, if you surround yourself with good friends, ask good questions, and work hard, you will be safer.” As he delivered his simplified dissertation to his daughters, the solid stats of his in-depth research were projected overhead for the audience. The emotional and groundbreaking presentation earned a standing ovation for Best, who concluded: “Treating women with dignity and respect is the work of violence prevention.”

Cynndie Hoff is a freelance writer and editor living in Walnut, California.