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Beyond athletics – UofSC News & Events

Molly Peirano

Title IX and the future of gender equity on college campuses

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Posted on: June 21, 2022; Updated on: June 21, 2022
By
Page Ivey, [email protected], 803-777-3085

Molly Peirano, a University of South Carolina alumna who recently led Title IX engagement
and education initiatives at Ohio State University, has been leading the university’s
new Office of Civil Rights and Title IX.

On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, UofSC Today talked with Peirano about her plans and goals
for the office and the future of the landmark civil rights regulation that prohibits
sex discrimination in any education program receiving federal funds.

Historically, Title IX has focused a lot on athletics, how would you describe the
future of Title IX?

Often when I’m trying to explain what Title IX is, I start back at the beginning.
There was a woman at the University of Maryland who earned her Ph.D. and, when she
was trying to get hired, would hear things like, ‘We already have a woman in this
department.’ ‘You come on too strong for a woman.’ Her name was Bernice Sandler, went
by Bunny. And she’s actually known as the ‘Godmother of Title IX.’

Sometimes we forget that this started as a faculty issue. When people look back at
history, they think a lot of the athletic aspect, which was very important and brought
a lot of attention that was well deserved. Now I would say we’re more in the era of
sexual misconduct and preventing it, keeping people safe.

But I do hope that we can bring some of the attention back to faculty issues and employment
and scholarship. Even though we’ve made great strides in equity in those areas, we
have a ways to go.

The main message I want people to get is ‘We want you to be treated well by us and
by one another, regardless of what your identity is.’

What is a contemporary issue that is being seen on campuses that you would like to
address?

If you look at the number of tenured faculty, you will still see that women are behind
in those spaces, even just looking at the sheer number. I think looking at those pieces
is helpful. Another part that often is not talked about in Title IX is pregnant and
parenting students, who are protected under Title IX.

I am working on a Ph.D. and that’s my area of study. And I can tell you over the last
four years, there has been more research done in that space. How do we support pregnant
students — keep them on our campuses, accommodate them so that they can have their
children? Or if they have a miscarriage, are they able to re-enter or maybe not even
leave, just have accommodation? I think that’s an area that has not gotten the attention
that it deserves.

What has been your first order of business in this position?

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One of the first orders of business has been to create a comprehensive policy that
is anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-sexual misconduct. Right now, there’s
quite a few policies and it can be confusing for people to follow. And my thing with
policy is people need to know what the expectations are if we want them to meet those
expectations. Most people want to do the right thing. They just need to know what
to do. We’re creating one comprehensive policy, and we’ll retire about six other policies.
I think that’ll help communicate our expectations to the community, let people know
what their rights are, and it will help us be more efficient and effective in our
work as an office.

We are also adding staff. Two of the first hires that I made are for what we’re calling
an intake function. When people come to the office, they have someone to share their
experience with who can help go through what their immediate resources are then what
their resolution options are. We want to restore agency back to people. We want to
make sure that instead of just rushing it to an investigation or something like that,
that people have time to think through what their options are and talk to someone
so they can get that support first.

Molly Peirano and her dog Monty

Molly Peirano says she gets to meet a lot of people when she takes her dog Monty for
walks around the Horseshoe.

How are you going about creating this new policy?

There’s a university policy process that we are following. We are doing some benchmarking
from other institutions, and we’ve also heard the feedback from people who are currently
here about what’s working and what’s not, as well as our own expertise having done
this work at other institutions.

We also are getting feedback from different stakeholders across the institution. We’ve
had a couple folks look at it from a faculty perspective, from an administration perspective.
I also visited the undergraduate student government and let them know I would be sending
a copy for feedback. I’m trying to get input from different folks, but we also want
to have it in place by the beginning of the new school year so we can have a fresh
start and launch our office more publicly.

I tell people, ‘We don’t want to put up a new front door if there’s nothing new behind
it.’ We wanted any publicity to coincide with the policy, so people see we are delivering
something more streamlined, easier to understand.

How did you get into this this line of work?

I knew I wanted to be in higher education. I had worked in sorority and fraternity
life when I was an undergrad. Then I was a consultant and went to a lot of different
college campuses. And I went back to school and got my master’s — at the University
of South Carolina — and I worked in student conduct while I was there. When I moved
back to Ohio after grad school, I did not have a role that I wanted to accept yet.
So I volunteered and got trained as a hospital advocate. I would go into the hospitals
and be present with survivors of sexual assault while they were going through their
nurse-examiner experience. After that, I realized that was an area I wanted to work
in.

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Eventually I got a role at Ohio State in Title IX, which I think kind of coupled the
student conduct — the expectations/accountability piece — with the victim/survivor
support piece. And it kind of brought those two worlds together.

What brought you back to USC?

I was in the Title IX job at Ohio State when I went to a wedding for a graduate school
classmate, and someone said South Carolina was opening a Title IX office and ‘You
could just come back and work with us.’ I looked at the posting and realized that
it was a similar office to what I had done at Ohio State. And USC is an institution
that means a lot to me. I knew there were going to be challenges, but I really think
that the people at USC deserve having that access, having their options presented
in an easy-to-understand way. So I just put my name in and thought, ‘Well, if it’s
meant to be, it will be.’

What is your early impression of the university’s commitment to working on these issues?

I was very impressed with all the work that had been done before I got here. You had
the Title IX task force and its report. There was a lot of acknowledgement that there
is a better way for us to serve people in this space. So I definitely appreciated
that. I am also very grateful for how they’ve situated the office — I report to the
president’s chief of staff, which I think is very wise. And so it shows me that this
is a priority for the institution and they strategically placed it so that we can
be integrated in the work of the university but also have the autonomy to do what
is right. I think that is very powerful for an institution.

Before I even came to USC, I got a call from President-elect Michael Amiridis, and
he shared how important this work was and that he was looking forward to working together
on this. To me, that said a lot that a president was willing and able to say that
this is a priority. Based on the work he did where he’s coming from, it’s not just
that he’s saying it, he really lives it.

Do you ever foresee a time when it won’t be necessary to have a Title IX coordinator
on a college campus?

I think that anyone who’s in prevention work hopes that they can work themselves out
of a job. And honestly, there’s so much work to do, not just at USC, but I would say
nationwide. I would love to say, of course we can get there. But I do think that sometimes
we get complacent, and people think ‘Oh, it’s improved from 1972, so we’re in good
shape.’ But like I said, if you look at the percentage of tenured faculty or if you
look at the pregnant and parenting students or the other areas, we have to stay on
top of it. If we don’t keep it top of mind, it’s easy to slide back and we still have
so much work to do. I know people deserve better.

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People need to know what the expectations are if we want them to meet those expectations.
Most people want to do the right thing. They just need to know what to do.

Your work is very intense. How do you relax? What do you do for fun?

I love to travel, so I’m very excited that it is kind of becoming more available and
feels safer for me to do that.

I have a little 3-pound teacup Yorkie that I love to spend time with. His name is
Monty, so he is a bundle of fun. I had a late meeting with students one night and
I had just moved, so I didn’t want to leave him alone yet. So I brought him. And as
I was walking him across campus, I met more people with him than I had the whole first
month I was here. So I told I told my boss, this could be a good idea just to walk
him around campus every couple of weeks and meet a bunch of people.

I also try to work out because I always tell my employees in the office, ‘You have
to be well, to do well.’ So I do try to run and exercise throughout the week.

I volunteer for other organizations because to your point, this can be so heavy. So
it’s nice to have like other things that require your time and attention. I volunteer
with Delta Gamma, which is an international sorority. I work with different collegians
across the country, and that’s rejuvenating.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think the biggest thing about Title IX is there’s all these other areas from recruitment
to admissions to helping people have a good experience while they’re here that we
don’t talk about. We should look at how are we bringing people to our institution
and making sure that they have the learning and working environment that they deserve
so they can go on and do great things. The main message I want people to get is ‘We
want you to be treated well by us and by one another, regardless of what your identity
is.’

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