Imagine a Springfield College campus flooded by students wearing jeans. For one day out of the year, students would elect to ditch the sweats and leggings. Athletic clothes would be swapped out, attempting to make a powerful statement. Eye catching? Absolutely. Unlikely? Not so much.
Denim Day, which will take the campus by storm on April 25, is just one of the many goals of new Title IX coordinator, Mary Simeoli. Simeoli joined the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement over spring break, and already has several aspirations to improve campus life.
With a professional background in higher education, Simeoli always knew that she wanted to pursue a future with students. Having worked with dozens of college campuses across the country, she realized that social justice matters were consistent, no matter the location.
“More and more Title IX issues were coming up, so I was realizing that there was a really deep need on campuses all over the country for people who were studying this,” Simeoli said.
Fortunately, that’s precisely what Simeoli had been doing.
“I went to law school wanting to be a Title IX coordinator,” she reflected. “Title IX is the perfect combination of that interest in law and my love of being at a campus and working with students.”
Although the phrase “Title IX” is mentioned fairly often around campus, its meaning can easily get lost in translation.
“Title IX is the way that we remove barriers so that students can access their education, and when we say access, what we mean is participate,” Simeoli explained. “So, the job of Title IX and the Title IX coordinator is to ensure that every student is free of discrimination so that they can fully participate in their education.”
As coordinator, Simeoli does not conduct Title IX investigations herself, but rather she helps to oversee the process. This is a critical role in order to eliminate any conflict of interest.
“I review all of our policies and practices and make sure that as Title IX fluxuates and changes, we’re keeping up with all those federal mandates,” said Simeoli. “If I was a part of the actual procedure, I wouldn’t be able to assess the actual procedure.”
Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hall believes that it is Simeoli’s strong history in law that makes this role such a great fit.
“She brings a wealth of background, and then the fact that she’s an attorney – the legal perspective is something that is helpful for us,” said Hill. “She also has taken it upon herself professionally, as well as personally, to gain a lot of insight in term of Title IX and how it impacts college students.”
Title IX is a vital topic on college campuses because it is part of a continual cycle. With graduation each year, there is always a group of incoming students to educate. Given the diverse background of this new population, it is a challenge to get the student body on the same page.
“The first month and a half of college is scary, because students find themselves with a lot of freedom that they didn’t have before,” explained Hill.
Simeoli is aware of this transition, which is why she has made it one of her primary objectives to create an ongoing dialogue about Title IX education throughout students’ experiences at Springfield.
“Students in particular are fed a lot of information all at once, and it can be hard to contextualize that,” said Simeoli. “It’s a lot harder to make that decision when you’re in the moment.”
Hill agrees that the key to Title IX is increasing student awareness.
“I would rather educate our students to death in a positive way than to have an investigation take place, because if I’m educating, it’ll open the door to have a dialogue,” he said. “[Then] students will have the knowledge and know what to do and what not to do. So by having this level of engagement, you’re hopefully stopping things.”
Simeoli believes that one of the most important aspects of this knowledge is as simple as the student-body understanding that Title IX is not limited to certain races, genders, or locations – it pertains to everyone.
“Title IX belongs to them. It’s inherent to their rights as a student and it goes with them wherever they go,” said Simeoli. “It’s more likely than not that you’ll know a student who’s either a complainant or a respondent in a case. If you understand your rights fully, you’re more likely to engage in those conversations.”
Especially given the intimate campus size at Springfield, this factor is even more prominent.
“We’re going to have shared experiences together, so we have to have a level of respect towards each other, because we can’t live in anonymity,” explained Hill.
Simeoli looks at this aspect in a positive way, and hopes to capitalize on it by empowering the students.
“I’m really looking to the students on this campus to become ambassadors and set the expectation for what they want the Title IX culture on this campus to be,” she said. “The Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement can say that we want the Title IX culture to be all of these things, but if students are not active participants and owners of that, then that’s not going to happen.”
One final way that students can look to get involved is through keeping their eyes open throughout the month of April for more activities, such as Denim Day.
“We’re having a lot of upcoming events that are actively being planned, and we’re hoping to have Title IX reflected in a lot of them,” said Simeoli. “I would love to see students really engage and participate.”