Since 1972 Title IX has mandated that institutions of higher education (IHE) provide equal access to education regardless of sex. This includes ensuring IHEs are proactively preventing and appropriately responding to incidents of gender-based violence within their campus communities. For years now, IHEs have been trying to demonstrate their compliance with Title IX requirements, in part because federal funding is at stake. Yet, there is little federal guidance on how to meet compliance standards despite the extreme heterogeneity in resources and size among IHEs subject to Title IX. Organizations can use many different techniques to project or protect a positive image in the face of uncertainty or harm, a practice called impression management. The purpose of this study was to explore how personnel from varied resourced IHEs perceived their institution’s impression management regarding Title IX compliance.
Participants were recruited from a larger study of IHE personnel who were involved in Title IX policy implementation. Ultimately, 25 semi-structured interviews were conducted over the fall 2018/winter 2019 semesters. The sample included numerous professions (e. g., social workers, lawyers, and Title IX coordinators), represented every region of the US and various types of IHEs (e.g., rural/urban, 2 year/4 year). Participants were asked about Title IX policy development and implementation at their IHE. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and were uploaded to Dedoose for analysis. Throughout analysis, a constant comparative method was used, which began with inductive coding and resulted in axial codes.
Every participant mentioned both financial and human resources as foundational considerations when responding to Title IX mandates. The availability of resources affected the mechanics of impression management: both in the workflow of the IHE and when communicating to internal/external stakeholders. For underfunded Title IX departments, the expression “wearing many hats” was repeatedly used to demonstrate compliance and personnel resourcefulness, as well as to indicate potential conflicts of interest. As one participant indicated “a concern that I have with our process, just to be quite honest, is that I can serve as the intake person and then serve as the investigator and then have to facilitate the conduct process... which inherently creates a bias”. In well-resourced Title IX departments, impression management was discussed by participants as a function of maintaining an image of “prestige” to stakeholders, showing them the IHE’s capability to have a robust response to Title IX mandates and as a way to buffer powerful stakeholders from potential liabilities.
Conclusions and Implications:
Currently, Title IX policy continues to be unsettled territory. Variability of campus Title IX implementation appears to be greatly influenced by impression management, as it relates to resource availability or scarcity. While the goal of equality under Title IX is commendable, many IHEs do not have the resources required to implement its mandates, magnifying another type of inequality. Future research should examine the absolute and relative costs required for every campus to afford to prevent and respond to gender-based violence with a comprehensive, trauma-informed approach.