Staff editorial – Title IX: topic too big for tutorial

September 17, 2021 — by Andy Chen and Esther Luan
Photo by Allen Luo

Students may recall a wondrous feeling of freedom upon hearing the bell ring at the end of second period on Friday during the first week of school, signaling the start of tutorial. Most students then remember the sudden drop in their stomach when their second-period teacher proceeded to inform the class that all students had to stay inside for the next 40 minutes to watch a presentation about Title IX — what even is Title IX, many surely thought, and why is it intruding on our precious time?

That’s not the reaction teachers and administrators should want the important topics covered in tutorial lessons to have. Even given the difficult circumstances caused by the entire school’s sudden return to in-person education, there’s no denying that the implementation of Title IX education got off to a slow start this year.

We want to emphasize that gender equality and sexual violence prevention are extremely important topics, and the district’s goal of addressing these issues through its tutorial program is commendable. That being said, these are topics for which education should be handled with extreme care — which, with the current implementation of the advisory lessons, isn’t happening.

In short, cramming students into classrooms following second period and forcing them to listen to a webinar from a lawyer in Tennessee isn’t as effective as other potential approaches.

The purpose of the effort, no doubt, is to help students apply Title IX knowledge to support themselves or their peers in the event that they recognize or experience sexual harassment. The effectiveness of the advisories rely solely on whether students who’ve already finished a 90-minute class willfully choose to pay attention to a lecture on Zoom for almost an hour. This is like teaching a module about intruder lockdowns without any applicable drills or practice. 

Students went into the Blue Day Friday expecting the tutorial to be a relaxing break with peers and a chance to ask teachers for help — only to find they were watching a 40-minute Zoom lecture. It’s only natural that this caused resentment; instead of listening, many students were on their phones, working on other assignments or taking a nap. 

As a result, only those who were already invested in Title IX issues likely paid attention to the presentations, while the other 90 percent of students — those who most need to pay attention — had no incentive to listen. It’s essential for Title IX education to reach those who aren’t already acutely aware of the problem and likely tuned out. 

Not only does this lead to a general student consensus regarding the presentations as a chore — especially since the Title IX presentations take time directly away from tutorials — but it can also foster more antagonism against the policies being implemented in spite of their extreme importance. 

Annoyance at being forced to listen to official presentations during what should be free time can easily transfer to dismissal of the content itself: not taking policies seriously, antagonism toward faculty who are trying to combat the issue or, most harmfully, invalidating victims of gender discrimination or sexual violence. 

Since the two consecutive webinars in August, there has been no further action to reinforce the Title IX presentations. In an ideal world, students would fully retain what they learn during a presentation, but realistically, students aren’t going to keep vigilant without, at the very least, occasional reminders.

Despite the shortcomings of this year’s Title IX education, we see important signs the issue is being taken seriously — for one, the administration took a necessary step in the right direction by introducing a licensed therapist on campus this year. The importance of these efforts cannot be understated.

However, given that the school has already dedicated resources to this education initiative, it can more effectively use them by generating more sincere interest through announcements and informational posters around the school, or even conducting a Breaking Down the Walls-style school-wide activity dedicated to engaging students with deeper knowledge and equipping them with the skills to respond to this issue as it appears in their lives or the lives of their peers. 

A dedicated activity of this calibre would avoid rushing through the details and provide a more intimate and constructive environment, through group discussions and lessons, for students to fully internalize the concepts. Many students will need to learn about the issues in a more immersive, experiential way to truly understand them. 

So while the sentiment behind the current Title IX presentations was admirable, the school can be more effective in addressing these issues. The way to educate students isn’t through a vaguely procedural recorded lecture — we’ve already had enough of Zoom to last a lifetime. Ultimately, these issues — pertaining to our generation’s fundamental understanding of respect and equality — are of the utmost importance, and the school should dedicate the time and effort necessary to reflect that.