In August of 2020, Erin Leeper – who earned a Master’s degree in student personnel administration at Springfield College – returned to her alma mater as the school’s Director of Non-Discrimination Initiatives and Title IX Coordinator. One of her first tasks: implementing the new Title IX regulations that went into effect on Aug. 14, 2020. Since then, she has worked closely with students on Title IX issues as well as matters of student conduct, and diversity and inclusion. Leeper spoke with The Springfield Student about her role and her path.
Q: What drew you to Springfield College?
A: I came to grad school for the Student Affairs program. I’ve always been interested in working with students in higher education. It was a sad day when I finished that program, but I’ve always had Springfield on my mind as a place to come back to. The community that we have is awesome, students just really love being here, and we create a great sense of belonging. Students feel valued here and I wanted to be part of a school that was doing that for students. I went away but the stars aligned to bring me back home and I was excited to come back.
Q: Could you explain what you do on a day-to-day basis?
A: My day-to-day is always evolving. Sometimes it can be heavy in the Title IX area in responding to sexual harassment cases or reports regarding dating violence. But I make sure we’re connecting with these students, providing support and resources. I try to do a lot of education and prevention work, especially around violence prevention so we don’t have a lot of those student reports coming in. There’s a balance of both the prevention and the response. I’m also involved in committees across campus that focus on the student experience, so that we’re being proactive in creating an inclusive community.
Q: How would you say your non-discrimination events have affected campus culture?
A: We have name recognition across campus. Sometimes this type of work is ignored until someone needs it, which can be really unfortunate. But we’ve had much better name recognition in the past couple of years, especially with adjusting to things post-COVID. It’s been great when we talk to students at our table events and they’ve already heard about things like Title IX through their classes or events put on at the campus.
Q: Could you give some examples of the support systems that Springfield has on campus?
A: Usually when something happens, the student would have a meeting with the dean of students and she can talk to them about connecting with our counseling center, health services, and off-campus connections with the YWCA, which is the local domestic violence and sexual assault resource that we have available to us in Western Massachusetts. We can also talk to students about getting their housing changed and also work with them if they need some extensions on assignments or exams in the immediate aftermath of the event. We can also work with students on creating schedules for the dining hall, library, and gym so that survivors can still have access to all those areas without seeing the person that caused them harm. We also try to just be flexible with students’ needs and want to meet students where they’re at.
Q: Do you think Springfield students are different from other college students?
A: I do because they are much more aware of what’s going on in the world, their place in it and where they can have an impact. I think through our programming we’re encouraging them to continue thinking about that. Dr. Kathy Mangano’s Humanics project is having students think about how we advocate for the continuation of Title IX’s impact. This fits into so many of our academic programs and lets us think about how our students can impact the world – which is part of the leadership and service to others aspect of our mission statement that is ingrained into every member of the Springfield College community.
Q: What do you see for the future of Title IX campus events?
A: My program, the past couple years, has been focused on the sexual violence piece, so now we’re making sure we are discussing the impact that Title IX had on athletic opportunities for women. Now we’re looking to bring in a speaker to talk about the transgender and non-binary athletic experience and what protections, through Title IX, apply to them. The sexual violence piece is always going to be talked about because we are a college campus, so we’re definitely going to keep doing those programs. I try to think about what’s going to be interesting to the Springfield students because we want them to show up to events and give them tools they can use in the real world.
For more from Erin Leeper about the responsibilities of her role and how TitliX impacts the College campus, check out her interview with Distinguished Professor of Humanics Kathleen Mangano for her project, Title IX at 50: Educate & Advocate. A webcast of the full interview can be viewed at springfield.edu/TitleIXat50.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College