Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Holly Foster

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Rebecca Malley

Committee Member 3

Dr. Thomas O'Brien

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. James Thomas

Committee Member 4 School



Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972, was designed to ensure that equal access to any educational environment receiving federal assistance (20 U.S.C. § 1681). Title IX forced institutions of higher education (IHE) to address the pervasive nature of sex discrimination within their educational environments, prevent the recurrence of sex discrimination, and remedy any effects of sex discrimination. To do this IHEs developed Title IX sexual misconduct policies. These policies are required by federal law to be impartial, neutral, and equitable to all parties accessing or participating in the resolution process addressing sexual misconduct.

The purpose of this study was to explore how language is used in sexual misconduct policies and how it affects the neutral role of Title IX. This study focused on eleven southeastern flagship institutions’ Title IX sexual misconduct policies. The study identified five types of language used within Title IX sexual misconduct policies.

This research found a lack of neutrality and multiple incidents of bias. Bias was identified in all analyzed policies when assessing the use of gendered language and the situated meaning of the terms victim, advocate, advocacy, and survivor. This research also found the policies contained neutral language, the existence of multiple processes for adjudicating sexual misconduct violations, unequal rights throughout the process, unequal access to interim measures and resources, and unequal retaliation protections illustrated how the collected policies were not neutral.

This study has significant implications for those developing Title IX sexual misconduct policies. It revealed space for alternative reflections that can lead to institutional change regarding the future development of institutional sexual misconduct policy.