is the granddaughter of 2 college football players and the daughter of a D1 college swimmer.
Growing up, Title IX was always regarded as something that took money away from men’s sports. As she grew up, her interests took her in directions that led her to learn more about the intricacies of Title IX and learned that it wasn’t taking away from men’s sports – men’s sports shouldn’t have had everything to begin with.
In fact, Meredith remembered an anecdote about her mother’s alma mater, Michigan University, that helped change her family's view on Title IX. In 1972, the year Title IX came into effect, the men’s athletic budget was $2 million and the women’s athletic budget was zero dollars. The women’s gymnastic team was so strapped for cash that the men’s gymnastic team would take their used athletic tape at the end of their practice sessions to give to the women to use.
In 2012, Meredith’s sister was the captain of the USC swimming team yet couldn’t get a coaching job post-grad. They subsequently found out that only 10% of collegiate swim coaches were women, which Title IX was working to change. Because of Meredith and her sister, Meredith’s family, bar her grandfather (he’s getting there), are completely supportive of Title IX.
Meredith Smith is our new-ish Title IX coordinator. She’s been around for long enough to know to say “Grounds” instead of “campus”, but not quite long enough to have removed campus from her vocabulary (yet). Luckily, Meredith has plans for big revisions in UVA’s Title IX department, so she has plenty of time to change that habit.
Meredith completed her graduate studies at Northwestern, got her first Title IX job at Dartmouth, moved to UCONN, and was previously an assistant provost for Title IX compliance at Tulane before taking this job at UVA in January. Through her various positions working with Title IX, Meredith has always been aware of UVA’s phenomenal ability to have compliant Title IX policies.
"[While at UCONN and Tulane], I looked at the UVA policy immediately. UVA has this strong compliance with the governments Title IX requirements...so let's use UVA's incredible innovation and strength...to prevent and end sexual violence"
But now, Meredith plans to use UVA’s power and prestige to change the culture surrounding sexual and gender-based violence on University campuses across America. She wants to work with student groups and CIOs across Grounds to build trust and educate each other on support systems available to the University community. Meredith herself is a resource for all questions regarding Title IX, gender discrimination, or sexual assault/harassment. She will always extend a listening ear to anyone in need and works to validate everyone’s lived experiences so that they can make informed decisions that they are comfortable with.
If a survivor is ready to go through the Title IX process, there are informal or formal ways to go about reaching a resolution. Most often, Meredithsays, people go through these processes not only to hold somebody accountable but also to prevent it from happening to anybody else. Meredith walked me through a few of the processes for those looking to report a Title IX violation, which are described below:
"Anybody who shows up to CAPS will get triage right away, but I’ll walk you down there and make sure that they are seeing you right now"
The informal processes, which were more common of a solution at her previous school, Tulane,can take many forms. First, a formal report is filed, whether that be on thejustreportitwebsite or byaresponsible employee. “They [survivors of sexual assault] can get legal representation for a really low cost for legal aid and it’s fantastic, but you can always get your own attorney. The attorneys work out a negotiation or settlement and then they contact [Meredith’s] office [and her office explains] what they can and cannot enforce in said settlement. Then they’ve created an informal resolution.” Another extremely popular form of informal resolution starts without even forming a formal complaint. A survivor can tell Meredith who their perpetrator was/is. Then, the Title IX office with the Dean’s office will sit down with the person that committed harm and have that conversation (without the complainant in attendance) to say, “we learned about this concerning behavior. I need to think really hard about your choices that you make moving forward.”
The formal process begins with a formal report as well, where the complaint is affirmatively saying that they want an investigation. It takes the Title IX office a week to put together what we call a notice of investigation which is then sent out to the person who has been reported to have been engaging in this prohibited behavior. The complainant gets a copy of that at the same time, so they know exactly what’s going out and what we’re saying. This letter spells out all the different rights in our process for the respondent as well as the complaint. At that point, an investigator gets involved.
An investigator is usually someone within the office of Title IX or an outside attorney. This investigation process can take anywhere from a few months to years depending on witness testimony timelines. The investigator also gathers documents, DMs, and texts. Then, a draft report is sent out to both parties to get their approvals or revisions. Once these revisions are complete, the investigator writes the final investigation report which includes their analyses on whether or not there is sufficient evidence to find a violation of policy. This analysis is just a recommendation, but the person who makes the final decision is a single-person attorney. This takes place at a hearing, where the hearing chair calls forward all the witnesses in order to make their final outcome, which will detail exactly why they made the decision that they did and they will also issue sanctions if they find someone responsible. Sanctions range from a warning to expulsion (or removal from the University).
If somebody disagrees with that, they can appeal. If it's a student case, the appeal will be heard by student affairs, if it is a faculty case it goes to the Provost, and if it is a staff case it goes up to our VP for administration. Then they will review all of the documents and what folks say they areappealing on and they will issue their own final determination. If everything goes perfectly and there are no delays, it should take a minimum of four months. Many times, it stretches on for longer than 6 months. It’s a long, arduous process, and there are support systems (like in the women’s center and CAPS and thedean’s office) in place to make sure a person feels supported through it.
If a report is filed, neither a formal nor informal process needs to take place unless the complainant (Title IX name for survivor) is intent upon doing so. But, if a survivor were to speak in hypotheticals or not share specific information in order to get confidential resources when speaking to Meredith or any other “responsible employee” who is mandated to report, it is supported and encouraged. Only in very extreme cases such as observed patterns of a perpetrator or major uses of violence will a Title IX process be started without the consent of the survivor. Resources and support systems will be offered regardless of outcome. Meredith also wants to assure everyone that regardless of the case outcome, she will never deny a person's lived experiences. The processes themself don't either – it is not determining whether or not something happened, it’s determining if policy was broken.
Meredith is committed to changing UVA’s Title IX Office's focus to prevention rather than adherence. For years already, we have been the model for government adherence. As a power school, it should be our duty to commit to end sexual violence. Meredith believes that once a school of our size, power, and prestige does this, it’s not long before every University in the country follows suit. Maybe then we will see the end of sexual violence and gender discrimination on University campuses nation-wide. Whether this goal is achieved in Meredith’s time at UVA or later, Meredith is committed to working in partnership with student groups all across grounds and establishing trust in our Title IX office because every member of our UVA community deserves better. We deserve better than knowing that “30% of the women and even more of our queer students will experience sexual assault by the time theygraduate” and accepting this as our way of life.
“All of us together are partners to create a community that all of you deserve.”
"All of us together are partners to create a community that all of you deserve"
Read the whole interview here.
Meredith Smith is a resource available to all members of the University community and would be happy to hear from anyone! Reach out to her via email: [email protected] for a meeting.