Oberlin Title IX Unable to Provide Adequate Support to Students

Many of us have heard the horrific statistic that one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted. While many claim this number is inflated, it has since been corroborated by The National Library of Medicine as a “reasonably accurate average.” This means that, assuming Oberlin is around this average, approximately 335 Obies have experienced or will experience sexual assault in their time here. However, for an issue so prevalent, and on such a liberal campus, I have been struck by a lack of discourse about sexual assault at Oberlin and the turbulent history of Title IX at Oberlin, which features a lawsuit that went before the Sixth Court of Appeals in 2019. Here are some things I have learned about the world of Title IX at Oberlin that I wish I knew at the beginning of my Title IX case. 

Firstly, I would like to say the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, which encompasses Title IX, plays a vital role for both the College and for those who have experienced sexual harm. It enforces the historic Title IX federal policy that “no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any academic, extracurricular, research, occupational training, or other education program or activity operated by a recipient which receives … federal financial assistance.” That being said, the level of support it provides students seems to vary widely. My experience with Title IX has been quite different — I found the office to be helpful, though its turnaround times leave much to be desired. Because of the Title IX process, I can now enjoy my college experience in relative peace. While working with Director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Mosely, it was clear that the legal aspects of her job weighed heavily on her. I can often see her gears turning as she ponders what she is allowed to say on the part of the office and how to say it. 

Mosely’s caution likely stems from the John Doe v. Oberlin College case, the verdict of which was handed down in June 2020. 

In John Doe v. Oberlin College, Oberlin expelled John Doe after a hearing found him guilty of engaging in intercourse with Jane Roe while she was intoxicated and therefore unable to give full consent. John Doe then sued Oberlin on the basis of discriminating against him on the basis of sex, and sought to highlight a pattern of gender discrimination in Oberlin College’s Title IX decisions. 

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of John Doe. It held that there were a number of irregularities in Oberlin’s handling of this case. Finally, they ruled that Jane Roe was intoxicated but not incapacitated — which means that she was, in fact, capable of consenting. 

The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is both an office of student support and a legal office. However, there is a fundamental incompatibility between providing support for survivors of sexual harm and carrying out Title IX College and legal policies. The office can be empathetic and provide survivors with information about their options going forward within the Title IX process, but must weigh the ‘informant’ and ‘perpetrator’ equally.

“If the College did do everything that I wanted them to do right now, there probably could be legal ramifications for them,” Emma Hart, one of the founders of Survivors Of Sexual Harm and Allies, said. 

This is especially relevant in the aftermath of the John Doe v. Oberlin case, as the College might be increasingly wary of another lawsuit. 

If you or someone you know has been sexually harmed, it is often hard to know what to do. “It’s hard to even know what questions to ask if you are going through this for the first time and in a place of trauma,” Hart said. The Title IX Office can be an invaluable resource in the healing process, but it is a confusing paralegal process that can be overwhelming for people who are dealing with sexual harm. In this article, I want to highlight the less well-known resources available to those who have experienced sexual harm on Oberlin’s campus, including lawyers and student advocates who are knowledgeable about the Title IX process and can help students navigate the process. 

“Originally [SOSHA] came from noticing a lack of discussion on campus about sexual assault,” Hart said. “I knew [through] whisper networks that this was happening really often, but it didn’t seem like there was a space for people to talk about it openly and honestly. That really bothered me, especially considering the experiences I had. It kind of felt silenced in a way because the culture didn’t allow for people to talk about it openly. I think that’s still an issue, but I want SOSHA to be a place that people can [speak openly about sexual assault] and to kind of start that culture change.”

SOSHA holds regular listening sessions open to everyone to share their experiences with sexual harm. As someone who has experienced sexual harm, it can feel isolating because family can empathize but never really understand. I did not realize this isolation until I found SOSHA. It was freeing to find a community of people who understood how hard it was to see the person who harmed you on campus and know the self-blame that often follows survivors. Obies who have experienced sexual harm and allies are all welcome. 

Another great resource is the Nord Center, as it has confidential advocates independent of the College who can provide counseling and are trained to work with people who have experienced sexual harm. I personally have found them extremely helpful right after my experience with sexual assault and throughout the process of recovering and healing.  

During the Title IX process, it can also be helpful to have legal counsel. In college Title IX processes, lawyers are not necessary at any stage, but they can provide helpful insight, a greater understanding of both the process and likely outcomes, and a sense of control in a situation that is often overwhelming. This often opens up a class issue, as sometimes perpetrators have the financial means to access legal advice when victims do not. The Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence has a free legal clinic with attorneys specialized in cases regarding sexual violence that can represent students in “Title IX and Campus Sexual Assault matters.”

This is all to say that there are ways for students to seek support after experiencing sexual harm. Although the office itself may not be able to support students as much as would be ideal, there are resources available outside to help students heal.


Nord Center: 800-888-6161

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence: (888) 886-8388

How to Help a Friend Experiencing Sexual Violence: https://www.washington.edu/sexualassault/support/how-to-help-a-friend/