Yesterday, we celebrated the 43rd anniversary of Title IX, a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. Widely known as the statute that governs varsity athletics, Title IX has helped advance women’s rights in collegiate sports, yes—but it has also laid the foundation to protect broader women’s rights to educational equality. The statue provides legal protections for student survivors of rape and sexual assault, a critical step in ensuring a safe and productive educational environment where students can learn and thrive.
Although Title IX has been in place since 1972, widespread attention to its protections against sexual assault is somewhat new. In 2011, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights published a “Dear Colleague” letter aimed at university administrators stating that “sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination” and, as such, requires university attention to these issues under Title IX. Following the letter, students across the country began to file Title IX claims against their schools for failing to respond adequately to reports of assault. These students have banded together nationally, forming networks and initiatives such as Know Your IX, a resource and advocacy center for those seeking to right their university’s inadequate sexual assault response policies.
Rape and sexual assault on college campuses are rampant. One in five women and one in eight men are raped or sexually assaulted during their time at school. Despite these alarming numbers, university administrations are largely failing to respond to students’ reports. A survey of more than 300 colleges and universities commissioned earlier this year by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) found that “many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students.” More than 40 percent of schools have not pursued investigations of a single rape or sexual assault in more than five years, but that in no way means these assaults are not happening. As the survey highlights, students face barriers to reporting their assault, meaning that data does not accurately reflect the severity of the problem.
The confined setting of a campus community poses unique challenges for those students—for women and for students of all genders. It is far too common for survivors to be subject to daily, traumatic reminders of a past assault upon seeing their assailant in the dining hall, in the dorm, or in class. Survivors and activists assert that by mishandling reports and failing to seriously condemn acts of violence, university administrations are failing students who have a moral and legal right—under Title IX—to a safe learning and living environment.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that mental distress and moral humiliation are equated with physical harm. Our faith also commands us not to stand idly by while our neighbor bleeds (Leviticus 19:16). The physical and emotional abuse inherent in sexual violence is a direct violation of the Jewish tradition and of a broader morality that implicates us to protect ourselves and our peers. As we continue to celebrate Title IX, we must also strive to expand its legal protections by fostering an environment that does not tolerate rape or sexual assault, and to drive a shift toward cultural norms that prevent those assaults in the first place.
by Rachel Stein
As a former preschool teacher and director, I was enjoying my role as a parent and lay leader on the “other side” in our preschool at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL. As my two boys happily made their way through our small preschool, I chaired the parent committee and volunteered on our early childhood task force, which explored ways to expand the school and reach target families, many of whom were sending children to other area programs.
In the midst of this work, we were invited to join the URJ’s Community of Practice (CoP) “Pursuing Excellence Through Your Early Childhood Center,” and we headed off to the kick-off retreat, where we met other professional and lay leaders working through their own programmatic challenges and successes. As we contemplated the next steps for our preschool, several points resonated with us:
- Get families in the door before their child turns 2 years old.
- Meet families where they are.
- Sometimes it’s best to dive in and take a risk. Don’t overthink it, just do it!
Following the retreat, we spent one more year attempting to keep our diminishing program afloat before we decided to close the school and find other ways to engage families with young children. As difficult as this decision was, it opened doors to new, innovative, and exciting programming.
Working with our director of education, we applied for and received a mini-grant from Chicago’s Jewish United Fund (JUF) that enabled us to offer a free, drop-in program for children up to 2 years old – and their caregivers – at a local bookstore one Friday a month for four months. Our main goal was to create an opportunity for parents of young children to connect with one another, which we believe is at least as important as (if not more important than) connecting with the congregation.
We advertised this new offering rigorously on social media, in ads in local newspapers, and on websites geared to families with young children – and then, on that first Friday, I waited in the bookstore with Susan, our newly-hired program coordinator, and wondered whether anyone would show up. Twelve participants showed up to that first event, and by the fourth class, we had 25 toddlers. We’d outgrown our space in the bookstore!
Each session focused on an upcoming holiday or Shabbat, and included age-appropriate songs, sensory activities, art, stories, and more. Rabbi Lisa Greene, playing her guitar, sang with the kids before they headed home, each clutching a children’s book related to the holiday that had been highlighted in the session. Holding the class beyond the walls of the synagogue helped us meet people where they were, and attracted non-members who, unfamiliar with the building, might have been intimated about attending an event there.
An online survey told us that, after having made social connections with other participants, as well as with Susan and me, the class’s adult participants were interested in additional sessions, even if the program were to be held within the synagogue walls. We’ve now been running this free program for more than a year, mostly at the synagogue, and we still pack the house each month, both with “regulars,” who greet each other with hugs, and with drop-ins, who come when they can and often bring friends. Perhaps most telling is the chatting among the parents, who talk about going out to lunch together after the class and ask if they will see each other at our tot High Holiday services and other synagogue programs.
In fact, building on the momentum created by this class and its participants, Susan has created a series of other free-of-charge classes for this cohort, including an art class for 2- and 3-year-olds and a Sunday morning movement class for dads and tots, which is also funded by a JUF grant. We initially thought our need to charge for the art class – to cover the cost of the materials – might be a barrier, but we were pleased to learn that through our other high-quality program offerings, we had established trustworthy relationships with participants, who were happy to pay and keep attending!
This summer, we will host two family programs: a Friday night Shabbat picnic followed by a movie screening on the lawn, and a Sunday afternoon event at a local pool. Thanks to that first bookstore event, many families who never would have walked through our doors now have real roots in our synagogue. Indeed, the connections and relationships keep growing – from synagogue to family, from family to Jewish learning, and from family to family.
What more could we ask for?
Rachel Stein, who holds a master’s degree in child development, serves on the youth and family community committee at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL. She teaches babies and toddlers, and also enjoys time at home with her husband and their 6- and 9-year-old boys
Last week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies voted to eliminate programs proven to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy, reduce abortion, and save tax dollars in fiscal year 2016. By gutting funding to family planning services for low-income individuals and undermining comprehensive sexuality education, the appropriations bill would leave millions of Americans without information and services to keep themselves safe and healthy.
The bill eliminates funding for Title X family planning centers, which have long enabled low-income individuals to access quality health care. This cut would leave 4.6 million Americans without affordable access to critical preventive health care, including family planning services, well-woman exams, cancer screenings, birth control, and testing and treatments for sexually transmitted infections.
Furthermore, the bill also slashes funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI), which promotes medically accurate and age-appropriate programs that reduce teen pregnancy. In addition, the bill doubles funding for abstinence-only until marriage programs, incomplete “sex ed” curricula that leave teens without the necessary tools to keep themselves safe and healthy. Studies show that abstinence-only until marriage programs do not prevent teenagers from having sex—instead, they prevent them from having safe sex. Our nation’s young people must have access to scientifically-based, medically-accurate information in order to make informed choices about their health.
Comprehensive sexuality education equips people with the information they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other health problems, and it also provides models for healthy adult relationships. It relies on accurate scientific knowledge and research to provide students with the truth about the potential risks of sexual activity, all while teaching tools to reduce these risks and to promote safe, healthy behavior.
The guiding principle of sexuality in the Jewish tradition is K’doshim tih’yu, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Providing young adults with accurate and comprehensive information allows them to make informed decisions about their health and helps them maintain respect for themselves and their bodies.
The appropriations bill is scheduled move forward to the full House Appropriations Committee next week. Contact your Representative today to urge him or her to protect robust funding for comprehensive sex education and family planning services!
The post Take Comprehensive Sex Ed and Family Planning off the Chopping Block appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.
In response to the tragic killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last night, Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We are heartbroken by last night’s attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were taken, those who were injured, and with the entire community that has been traumatized by this violence. For all congregants – from the youngest children in religious school, to young professionals engaged in religious life, to long-time stalwarts of the community – houses of worship are places of safety, comfort and inspiration. For the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to have become last night a place of such horror tears at the heart of every person of faith and goodwill.
We are relieved that the police have identified and captured the suspect. Prior to the arrest, Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen asserted that this attack is a hate crime. If so, we reaffirm that religious intolerance, racial discrimination and hate-motivated violence have no place in our society, which aspires to be a haven for people of all faiths, races and ethnicities.
This attack also serve as yet another tragic reminder of the violence wrought by guns, which fall too easily into the hands of those who seek to cause grievous harm. Our Jewish tradition teaches: “He who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal community as we pray for those who were murdered and send our thoughts and strength to the families of the victims and those who were wounded.