Asha Reynolds, a former Title IX investigator, has been appointed to lead efforts to make GW a harassment-free environment.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, the George Washington University’s Title IX Office is working to ensure that the GW community is a harassment-free environment, said Asha Reynolds, GW’s new Title IX director and coordinator.
“Our community has continued to utilize the supportive measures that the Title IX Office offers,” Ms. Reynolds said.
Housed within the GW Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, the Title IX Office works to prevent and respond to violations of GW’s Title IX Sexual Harassment and Related Conduct Policy.
The office educates the GW community about issues such as sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking. It also responds to reports by coordinating supportive measures to community members. Finally, the office resolves cases through the formal and alternative resolution process.
Appointed as the Title IX director and coordinator in April after serving in this position on an interim basis since October 2020, Ms. Reynolds, who first joined GW in 2018 as a Title IX investigator, supervises the formal and alternative resolution processes to make sure all investigations are prompt, thorough and impartial. She also oversees the provision of supportive measures to ensure that the most appropriate services are provided to GW community members.
However, she said the cases the office currently sees tend to be more complex during the pandemic because of the remote nature of the office’s operation.
“We're receiving reports about community members who are actually quarantining with their alleged abuser,” Ms. Reynolds said. “Additionally, students, in particular, are scattered across the globe.”
She said in addition to critically rethinking how to contact community members at home, the office has also had to find local resources where community members are located.
“Previously, we were able to walk community members to on-campus resources like the Colonial Health Center or counseling and psychological services,” Ms. Reynolds said.
She said while the office already is considering what COVID-19 operations will likely remain in effect post-pandemic, such as remote meetings to allow those who feel most comfortable doing so to report from the privacy of their own space, it is also working toward other goals such as increasing the community's awareness of its services.
“I think it's really important to emphasize that adjudication is not the only thing that Title IX office does,” Ms. Reynolds said. “A lot of people, when they hear about Title IX, they think about investigations and hearings, and they're not necessarily aware of the vast array of supportive measures the office offers to students, faculty and staff that may be put in place without filing a formal complaint.”
Supportive measures offered through the Title IX Office may include offering academic support, mutual no-contact orders, safety planning and referrals to on- and off-campus resources. The Title IX Office offers supportive measures impartially and equitably to all parties involved in reported incidents.
One priority is increasing the profile of the office’s alternative resolution framework, especially in light of new U.S. Department of Education regulations that require live hearings and cross-examinations in the formal resolution process. Rooted in restorative justice, alternative resolution allows parties to acknowledge the harm caused and identify concrete actions that are needed to repair that harm without an investigation and a formal hearing.
The office’s website, which was recently updated with information for pregnant and parenting students as well as information about mutual no-contact orders, will soon include a step-by-step guide that walks community measures through the formal resolution and alternative resolution processes.
Prior to coming to GW, Ms. Reynolds worked as the assistant director of equity compliance and Title IX coordinator at Bowie State University and served as the Managing Attorney for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s (MCASA) Sexual Assault Legal Institute. At MCASA, she worked on Title IX cases and was a gubernatorial appointee to the Safe Harbor Workgroup to study and make legislative recommendations regarding youth victims of human trafficking in the state of Maryland.
Before MCASA, she served as an assistant district attorney for the New York County District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted felony and misdemeanor crimes throughout Manhattan.
Ms. Reynolds received her undergraduate degree from American University and her J.D. from the New York University School of Law.
Going forward, Ms. Reynolds said, the office will continue to increase its accessibility and transparency.
However, she said the office must remain conscious of the potential impact of President Joe Biden’s March executive order, which “guarantee[s] an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity” and requires the Secretary of Education to review Trump-era Title IX regulations within 100 days.
“My vision for the future of the Title IX Office has to be consistent with the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX regulations and guidance as well as federal law governing our work,” Ms. Reynolds said. “We may have to respond to the changes that the Biden administration has in the works, including potentially updating our policy.”