Staff voice:

Jessica Norris: Working in the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education

May 30, 2018

Jessica Norris is the associate vice president of Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance and has been a part of the Title IX office since 2015, when she became the university’s first stand-alone Title IX Coordinator. As she prepares to leave MSU for a new opportunity, she offers her thoughts on how MSU’s civil rights and Title IX efforts are evolving and what the future holds for the new unit. The office, created in April, is working to further expand MSU’s response to reported civil rights and Title IX incidents and develop effective prevention, education and outreach programs to foster broader culture change at MSU.

How has your job and the Title IX office changed since you first started?
I was hired to be MSU’s first dedicated Title IX and ADA coordinator as part of MSU’s response to the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights investigation. Initially, my role focused on ensuring our policies, procedures and programs were meeting legal and regulatory requirements. Since I was part of a brand-new office, a great deal of my initial focus was working with the Office of Institutional Equity director to build an office and our Title IX program from the ground up.

Simply meeting the requirements was never our end – it was merely a benchmark along the way. Today, we are focused on identifying opportunities for continuous improvement to enhance the experience of students and employees who encounter the OIE investigation process. Similarly, we are building on the foundational education programs to develop proactive programs designed to reduce the prevalence of incidents by preventing their occurrence. With my promotion in April 2018, my role expanded beyond a Title IX focus to include responsibility for MSU’s civil rights compliance and education programs.

How are these efforts connected to the national Title IX and sexual assault prevention trends?
On a national and even international level we have seen steps being taken to bring attention to and continue the dialog of sexual assault prevention and this conversation has bolstered our awareness efforts at MSU for our students and employees. To eliminate sexual misconduct, we need a high level of awareness of MSU’s values, expectations and available resources. As evidenced in the 2016 National College Health Assessment report, where MSU had the highest percentage of students report receiving information on sexual assault and relationship violence, our efforts to raise awareness and bring these issues out of the shadows are working.

How is MSU addressing these issues?
At MSU we are not simply addressing an issue but building a supportive culture - a culture that doesn’t tolerate this type of behavior, that holds people accountable, and that works together to prevent incidents from happening.

With the creation of the new Title IX Prevention, Outreach and Education office, we have the staff and resources to develop proactive programs, focusing on community engagement and prevention. While it’s important our educational programs meet compliance obligations, that needs to be the floor, not the ceiling.

With 50,000 students and 15,000 employees, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education and outreach. We are focusing on understanding the unique needs of different communities on campus and will be piloting a number of different programs during the upcoming academic year that will enhance our ability to communicate, connect and engage with these communities.

What’s next?
We are working with the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup to review ideas shared by community members and during the Title IX external review to determine additional changes and programs that can be implemented. In collaboration with the RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup, we will be conducting a Title IX-focused campus climate survey.

The office is hiring an ADA coordinator to focus on accessibility on campus and promote awareness and education in this area. Additional staff are being added to improve the experience for those involved in the investigation process, help improve management of cases internally, as well as support reporting needs and communication with key campus partners.

Among the new programs to be piloted will be efforts to develop a K-12 prevention program. National data shows students are impacted by relationship violence and sexual misconduct in the K-12 environment. This program will support efforts to prevent incidents from occurring, raise awareness and change behaviors before students arrive on campus. The program will focus on key messages relating to consent, developing healthy relationships and respecting others.

What’s been the favorite part of your job and proudest accomplishment?
My favorite aspect has been the diversity of people I’ve been able to work with since my position requires connecting and networking at all levels of the university. By engaging all these different groups, you get really innovative ideas and partnerships and their voices have been an inspiration to drive the change at MSU.

Partnering with these groups goes along with what I feel is a great accomplishment – establishing the new organizational structure. It is a leading-edge structure that will align resources, break down silos and improve communications to develop a holistic and cohesive program. Though it’s time for me personally to move on, I believe MSU has the structure, foundation, talent, resources and commitment to bring about meaningful culture change that will ultimately lead the way for others across the country.