Staking Out Equity

Problem-solver, resource, advocate, and expert listener, Ruth Jones coordinates Oxy's Title IX compliance efforts

Ruth Jones got her first exposure to gender inequity as a fifth-grader on the playground of her elementary school in New York City. "There were different rules for what boys and girls could do," she recalls, "and at lunchtime, when we came out to play, girls were banned from the area where the boys played punchball." When she asked school officials why, "They said it's because the land was deeded that way. Of course, as a fifth-grader, I didn't know the law, but that answer did not make sense to me. Later I realized that was nonsense, because I went to a public school."

Besides emboldening her to become a lawyer, Jones also took away the lesson "that there are societal rules in place that would not yield easily to basic arguments of fairness and fair play," she says. "As I grew up, there were other more serious incidents that instilled in me a commitment to equality. I knew a woman in college who was a victim of domestic violence at a time that we didn't have a name for that—we just knew her boyfriend was beating her up. This is the kind of thing that made me committed to trying to make a difference."

A graduate of Smith College and UCLA Law School, Jones started her legal career as a prosecutor in New York City, handling sex crimes, domestic violence, violence against children, and other street crimes. She subsequently worked as a staff attorney with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, dealing with issues of gender equity, before going into teaching.

Now, after 17 years as a professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Jones arrived at Occidental in late February as the College's first full-time Title IX coordinator. It's a logical progression for Jones, who was frequently tapped by the university and law school for her expertise on sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination issues. She discussed her new role in an interview in April.

Occidental: What attracted you to the Title IX coordinator position at Oxy?

Jones: This is a time of significant change in the application and interpretation of Title IX. We're seeing the evolution of what the law can do to make colleges safer for students. This is a tremendous opportunity to work with people at Oxy who are ­passionately committed to addressing sexual assault, who want to work toward gender equity, and who are committed to making the ­college experience safer for students.

What does a Title IX coordinator do?

A Title IX coordinator is responsible for institutional compliance with Title IX. Title IX covers all forms of discrimination including programs and activities, athletics, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct. This means that I coordinate responses to complainants, monitor compliance, and coor­dinate training and education on Title IX issues. One of my most important roles is to serve as a resource to the community on Title IX issues.

What are your initial impressions of Occidental?

There are many people who are deeply committed to Occidental and to gender equality. One of the best things about my job is that I get to work with people and departments all across the College.

What programming should we expect out of your office?

Right now, I'm assessing the training and prevention programs that already are in place. Through training and education I hope to increase the transparency of how we operate while working with the campus community to address issues of gender equity for everyone. I want to keep the community informed via updates to the College webpage and a yearly report from the Title IX office. Although privacy concerns bar us from providing information on individual cases, we can still provide aggregate data so that everyone can know the number and type of cases we have and how cases are resolved.

In addition to formal programming and training, I am also trying to make myself more visible to the community so that people know that they can call the Title IX coordinator whenever they have questions or concerns, and not only when a specific or potential policy violation has occurred.

How much have you been able to get out there so far?

Initially, I contacted all every student group on campus to let them know that I would be happy to meet them in person. And the purpose of these meetings is not just to introduce myself and what I do, but also to get their suggestions on how to make things better. What's interesting from the student perspective is that there have been some consistent suggestions, such as doing training and prevention beyond Orientation.

I've also had an opportunity to meet with staff and administrators and various departments, and I look forward to continuing these meetings over the summer and into next year.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Title IX?

That it only covers athletics, sexual assault, and students. Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in all its forms and applies to all members of the academic community.

What can you tell us about your work?

A lot of what I do is problem solving—and listening. People contact me with problems and concerns that are sometimes not fully formed or articulated. It's important to listen carefully and ask questions that will provide an opportunity to help.

The Title IX Office is located in South Trailer D (next to Bell-Young Hall). Jones has office hours every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon and can be reached at ruthjones@oxy.edu.