Photograph by Sarah Weaver
On September 24, 2018, Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) new Title IX Coordinator and Compliance Officer, Chelsea Yogerst, began work.
Title IX is a federal law that was enacted in 1972. It states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This includes discrimination based on gender in sports, as well as sexual harassment. It is the job of the Title IX coordinator to enforce this law by responding to complaints, working proactively to make sure that students are aware of their rights under Title IX, and implementing training and education to prevent instances of sexual harassment and assault.
Yogerst applied for this position after working for the New York City Department of Education, Office of Special Investigations. “I saw this position as an opportunity to utilize the skills I developed as a confidential investigator over the past few years in a more engaging way that would promote a more inclusive community overall,” said Yogerst.
She plans to focus on “collaborative prevention efforts that include accessible trainings and programs for both students and employees” to make sure everyone fully understands Title IX. Yogerst also wants to make certain that BUSD’s complaint process is accessible, timely, and neutral, because she believes that “every complaint of discrimination deserves a fair and comprehensive response.”
Yogerst expounded on her previous statements and the importance of Title IX. “[Enforcing Title IX compliance] ensures efforts are made to prevent, respond, and resolve unwanted sexual conduct, including sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she said.
Current programs and groups at BUSD schools, and Berkeley High School (BHS) in particular, that aim to end sexual harassment in schools are the Green Dot training program and BHS Stop Harassing.
Yogerst became interested in Title IX as an undergraduate at Tufts University. As a women’s field hockey player, she was aware of the effects of Title IX in ensuring equal funding and opportunities for all athletes. She later learned of all types of sex discrimination it addressed, which further interested her.
The position of BUSD Title IX Coordinator and Compliance Officer was previously held by Dana Clark, who left to embark on a different career path effective July 1, 2018.
Members of the BUSD School Board and district staff participated in the hiring process for a new coordinator. Yogerst was selected because of her vast amount of experience from investigating claims with the New York police review board and Department of Education.
Ty Alper, a School Board member, says Yogerst is “highly organized and motivated, and is used to working with parents, teachers, classified staff, administrators, and students.”
He added that he and others are glad about her appointment. “[The district staff is] very excited to have her join [their] team, and look forward to her tenure in this position,” said Alper.
Some BHS students have expressed concern that one Title IX Coordinator and Compliance officer may not be enough to serve the whole district. With 9,410 students enrolled in BUSD, some are worried there may be too many complaints to be dealt with by one person.
Sylvie Love, BHS student and member of BHS Stop Harassing, understands that there may be budgetary limits, but said she believes student safety and comfort at school should be prioritized. “Since there is only one Title IX coordinator, they are not as accessible and will have more complaints to focus on,” said Love. She proposed that the district hire multiple coordinators to insure that every single case gets the attention it deserves.
It is a federal requirement that there be a Title IX Coordinator in BUSD, but it’s also “simply the right thing to do,” said Erin Schweng, BHS principal. Love stated her feelings on the importance of the existence and enforcement of Title IX. “Every student has the right to feel safe and comfortable at school and should not have to deal with being sexually harassed in their classrooms, hallways, at lunch, or anywhere else,” Love said.
Alper agreed with these sentiments. “[The district] needs someone who is dedicated to ensuring that students are aware of their rights under Title IX, that appropriate training is implemented for staff and students, and that staff and students know they have someone to turn to if incidents occur that implicate Title IX issues,” Alper said.