Title IX Exemptions: Silent Discrimination within Higher Education

Personal Narrative written by Kellen Haas

Published with permission The Tiger at Clemson University


Picture this: you wake up and go to your class at nine in the morning. It’s a beautiful April morning, but you start to notice as you pass people on campus that you’re getting quite a few dirty looks. You go to the bathroom and two girls go in after you. You can feel the tension in the air, and you can’t help but think that they are judging you because of who you are. You wash your hands and as you leave you can feel them start talking about you, so you choke back tears and force the knot in your throat down. That’s when you realize that they all know you’re gay, and they associate you with this burdening concept of sin. They think that you’re toxic. All of that just because of you who you love.

This was my entire sophomore year at Anderson University. The worst part was not the hate that I received from a community that claims to be Christian, but rather, the fact that there was no protection or help for me. Anderson University is one of the hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States that have exemptions from Title IX (which allow campuses to discriminate due to religious preferences). They can discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, whether they are pregnant outside of marriage or have sex outside of marriage and women who have had an abortion. There are far too many people who do not even know that this is an issue.

Around March of my freshman year at AU, I decided to apply to be an RA to get more involved. I applied and went through the entire interview process, and then was hired. My family was proud, and my friends were so excited for me. Shortly after starting the job I had already become a part of the residence life “family.” During a staff meeting, in our orientation period, we were asked to read and sign our RA contracts. There were a few points stipulated in the contract, but the only one I was really concerned with was the one that stated, “residence advisors may not date another resident advisor that is on the same staff.” This concerned me because at the time I was dating someone who had applied to be an RA and was accepted onto the same staff. At any public university, this stipulation would mean that if two people were in a relationship prior to becoming RAs, and were placed on the same staff, then they would need to notify residence life. The outcome would more than likely be that they would be moved to different staffs. My girlfriend and I didn’t say anything at the meeting, in which all the other RAs were present, but instead decided to inform our Residence Director of our relationship a few days after signing the contract. We were afraid of the repercussions from residence life as well as being judged by our peers.

For the next month and a half, I attended orientation meetings as an RA and met my coworkers. After nearly two months, the university’s residence life sent me an email stating that I needed to come in for a meeting with the Associate Dean of Residence Life. In the meeting, there were a few things discussed, most of which I do not remember all that clearly because I was so upset from the news that they had fired me and my girlfriend. I had to come up with a way to explain to my family, my friends and all the people with whom I was supposed to work why we were no longer going to be RAs. Moreover, I lost a $3000 scholarship and free housing. Residence life suggested that I simply tell people that I decided I no longer wanted to be an RA. My dad attended a meeting with the Dean of Student Life in order to discuss how they could legally fire me and on what grounds. During the meeting, the dean stated that he personally does not agree with people being homosexual. My dad went on to ask him what the university will do to protect me if I were to get bullied. The dean responded by stating that the university cannot and would not do anything to protect me or anyone in the LGBTQ+ community that was bullied at their school.

I lost my job and had consequently been outed to the top tier of residence life staff.  I constantly worried that if the wrong person saw me holding hands with a girl, or kissing a girl, I could get reported and even expelled. How could I explain this to my parents? What should I do for the next semester? These were some of the questions that flooded my mind. I decided to return to Anderson for my sophomore year because I was still dating the same person and did not want to leave her, nor did I know of anywhere else where I could get into nursing school. To sum up my sophomore year, I felt a lot of hatred. I came out of the year with only two friends left and a really heightened sense of anxiety. During my sophomore year, I decided to seek therapeutic assistance in Greenville in order to find a more unbiased and welcoming environment.

If you have ever lived in an environment where you feel hated and judged in everything you do, then you understand my sophomore year. However, if you have never experienced this, let me assure you it is one of the most horrible, lonely feelings I think I will ever experience. I am writing this column to tell my story, but also to try and help others who are afflicted by the same system that hurt me. Using religion as a guise in order to discriminate against select groups of people should never be allowed. In a progressive world, the modern society we live in, where most people have access to everything with the touch of a button, you would think we would find a way to prevent separation of church and state from allowing discrimination against minority groups of people. I have written this to spread the word about this issue, and to get people talking about it. I have made my immediate goal awareness, and my lifelong goal to overturn Title IX exemptions on a federal level. How can a country that stands for freedom legally allow institutions to discriminate against whomever they please, limiting the rights and opportunities of those groups of people? I feel it is extremely pertinent to have these issues not only addressed but eventually improved. Equal rights should not be limited because a person chooses to attend a religiously affiliated college or university.

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