In 2018 a local theatre troupe performed the play The Vagina Monologues at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, inviting students to attend for free. During the show a female ERAU student delivered a diatribe about sexual harassment and the poor treatment of other women at the school.
Flash forward to 2022, and a lot has changed.
“I’ve certainly seen the pendulum swing the other way since I’ve been here,” said Liz Higgins Frost, coordinator of ERAU’s Title IX program.
Frost has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame at Maryland in psychology and counseling, a Masters in education from Northern Arizona University, and a PhD in higher-education administration from North Central University. She praises the “great professional development opportunities” she’s had at ERAU.
ERAU is addressing the issues of inequitable treatment by professors, sexual harassment, sexual assault, date rape and other gender issues head on, she said.
“I think it’s hard for a university to correct something when it has not been brought to the attention of the administration,” Frost said. “We are actually fortunate here because we’ve had fraternities turn in their brothers for potential violations of our Title IX policies. It’s rare to see that anywhere.”
For a lot of years, the low number of women at the university made the issue one that was largely under the radar. That began to change when enrollment jumped. An employee of ERAU and Prescott resident for 20 years, Frost said that changed her role, too. She began her career there as associate dean of students, but has been Title IX coordinator since 2011. She also oversees the Title IX program at the university’s campus in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“The biggest change at Embry-Riddle has been from female growth in student enrollment and campus growth,” Frost said. “There were 1,100 students when I started, and now there are over 3,000.” When Frost began working at ERAU, the female makeup was 16%, and now it’s 24%.
Frost said the surging number of women students can be credited to a combination of more scholarships for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, kindergarten-to-12th-grade programs putting energy into STEM curricula, and colleges doing a lot more outreach to schools to support STEM.
Frost said that during the 2021-22 academic year Embry-Riddle created its first online modules for Title IX that all students were required to take. New students have to take a full course.
“As the Title IX coordinator for federal compliance, I make sure that nobody is denied access to education or programs because of gender,” Frost said. “It’s a huge switch from my first job. I work on education, on gender education, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and overseeing adjudications and any mediations. Our policies and procedures are posted in compliance with Title IX.”
The university has also added live hearings of formal Title IX procedures, to address the rights of the accused and develop a more equitable process of reviewing complaints.
“It really gives the power and autonomy to the complainant, and we take their cues from them unless there’s a safety concern,” Frost said.
Sometimes students just want to document what’s happened, at other times a full investigation is warranted. The past calendar year brought reports of 25 relevant incidents.
“We have done investigations,” Frost said. “They range anywhere from incapacitated rape to catcalling. We are getting ready to do our first live hearing on campus.”
Often, Frost said, her office simply tries to educate those who commit minor offenses, such as making sexist remarks. But ERAU has worked with the police and the county court to issue an order of protection to ensure that a victim was safe.
“We have a positive working relationship with the Prescott and Prescott Valley police departments and the City Attorney’s Office. We are also trying to do a newsletter once a month and post things online.”
Frost said her office also puts educational materials in bathrooms so students will see them all over campus.
Along with an online program and widespread posting of information, themes addressed in the newsletter have included healthy relationships, sexual-assault awareness, domestic-violence awareness, and sex trafficking.
ERAU also supports its Women’s and Diversity Center, founded and directed by Dr. Melanie Wilson. It provides resources and support for students.
“At the end of the day we’re an educational institution, and if we don’t address (gender issues), we’re failing the students,” Frost said. “College is a transition into the real world, with a safety net. Teaching students how to develop their minds and turning them into good human beings is our goal.”