Recently, declarations of #MeToo have reverberated across Hollywood, corporate America, and college campuses, prompting critical dialogue about sexual harassment and assault and the abuse of power.
That conversation is also playing out at The New School. For months, the university has been working to more effectively address those issues and to ensure that students, faculty, and staff can pursue intellectual, creative, and professional endeavors free from harm. That effort has involved identifying a leader who can spearhead efforts to strengthen The New School’s Title IX policies and practices and improve access to information and resources related to Title IX complaints.
Following an extensive search, Rhonnie Jaus has been chosen as the university’s new vice president for Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Compliance.
Now more than ever, Jaus says, “Sexual misconduct and assault are at the forefront of the news, everyday conversation, and the public consciousness.”
“It’s an important time to talk about these issues, and it’s an important time to take this position,” adds Jaus, who joins a robust team committed to tackling sexual misconduct and abuse issues, including Jennifer Francone, Assistant Vice President for Student Equity and Access; and Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice.
In her new role, Jaus — a lawyer and Title IX coordinator who has dedicated her career to dealing with cases of sexual misconduct and assault, child abuse, and sex trafficking — will work to advance The New School’s commitment to diversity and inclusion through policy development and campus-wide outreach. She will set her sights on Title IX, the section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that forbids gender discrimination in “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
An authority on the law, Jaus is prepared to offer guidance on combatting sexual misconduct and abuse. But first, she’s going to do some listening. In her first act as VP for Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Compliance, she will embark on a “listening tour” of the university as part of a working group that includes members of the Provost’s Office, General Counsel, Student Success, Social Justice, and Human Resources, the department in which her position is based. The group will gather input from faculty, staff, and students from across schools and disciplines that will be integrated into a new Title IX policy.
“Having worked in siloed environments, it is refreshing for me to collaborate with so many different professionals around the university,” she says.
That kind of engagement will be key to educating the university community on Title IX issues. While digital training courses — online sessions in which the user clicks through slides before taking a test — have their place, “there’s no substitution for in-person instruction,” Jaus says. In rolling out the new policy, she envisions group discussions, workshops, and role-playing that will allow participants to make comments, ask questions, and share their perspectives.
Raising awareness on sexual misconduct and abuse isn’t enough, Jaus says — she also hopes to teach tactics to stop them. As the Title IX Coordinator at Adelphi University, she created the ASAAP Program (Advanced Sexual Assault and Awareness Prevention), a five week intensive that included classes and workshops on violence awareness and bystander intervention. For evidence of the effectiveness of such programs, Jaus points to the recent incident at Stanford University where passersby intervened to save an unconscious woman, who was being sexually assaulted. Such courses are empowering: Students who completed ASAAP went on to form an advisory group that pursued campus outreach efforts.
“These kinds of programs impart strategies on how to report cases of sexual assault to the police, distract perpetrators, and rescue victims,” says Jaus, who also served in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office as executive division chief of the Sex Crimes/Special Victims & Crimes Against Children Division. “Students who are interested in going into the field can also use this as a springboard to advancement.”
While she’s only just settling into her new office at 80 Fifth Avenue, Jaus has been thrilled by the already enthusiastic reception to her arrival at The New School. That’s no surprise, given the university’s commitment to creating an open and inclusive environment built on ideals of social justice.
“Everyone is eager to train and learn more about issues,” she says. “It’s invigorating.”
Ultimately, Jaus hopes to see a “culture shift” in the country’s thinking around Title IX issues. The rules — “the need to get consent before sexual activity, what sexual harassment and assault is” — should be deeply ingrained in our society, she says. Even more important, victims of sexual misconduct and abuse shouldn’t feel the need to stay silent.
“A lot of times, people are fearful, ashamed, and confused, and they don’t know where to go,” Jaus says. “I want The New School to be a place where people not only understand the law but feel empowered to come forward and report what happened to them.”