Title IX and 504 Coordinator Chris Toutain discusses his aspirations as a new member of the Reed community
A self-proclaimed “policy-nerd,” new Title IX and 504 Coordinator Chris Toutain has always been big on making sure that academic spaces fulfill their obligations to the community in the most effective way possible. Toutain may be a new addition to Reed, but his dedication to preventing discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, and disability is not a new development.
Toutain has always been drawn to small and highly engaged liberal arts colleges. With a background in Student Affairs, Toutain originally worked in Housing and Residence Life at Willamette University before moving to work in Title IX at Chapman University in Orange, California. While working in residence life, Toutain was offered the opportunity to get more involved with student conduct work, sexual misconduct investigation, and hearing adjudication. The Title IX field attracted him in the wake of the 2011 Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter, when colleges and universities were figuring out the true purpose of their Title IX boards. “I just found the work to be challenging and difficult but also incredibly important for the campus community,” Toutain said. “I appreciated the larger impact.”
At Reed, Toutain hopes to make real, systematic change. He wants to look back at his time working in Title IX knowing that he made a difference in the lives of individual students, as well as the wider Reed community. “I hope that all members of the community who experience these processes find them to be ones that acknowledged their humanity, and treated them with dignity, even when the process itself did not arrive at the result for which an individual may have hoped,” Toutain says. Regardless of what the outcome of a particular case is, he wants students to feel protected and supported by both him and his fellow Title IX staff members.
Working in Title IX isn’t always easy, and Toutain admits that his work isn’t usually associated with positive feelings. He feels, however, that the fact that students see filing a report with Title IX as a viable option is a good thing in itself. “When someone brings forward a complaint of sexual harassment, within that report, there is an account of harm that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to what folks may consider positive feelings, but at the same time, someone came in and made a report in a moment when they also could have not done that, and so something contributed to that person finding reporting to be a viable option,” Toutain said. “It may not be the best option, it may not be an option that they particularly enjoy or like, it may be an option they have lots of concerns about, but it was still an option that they found to be viable enough to make that report, and I think that’s a good thing. For me, setting the expectation that the report is challenging but viewing the reporting as a positive thing that we should improve upon is something I find helpful.” The nature of each report is often troubling, but the reporting itself, Toutain asserts, is something that should be viewed as a positive thing that Title IX should continue to support, encourage, and ultimately improve.
Title IX gives Toutain the opportunity to learn something new every day. From his perspective, no two work days are ever the same, and each presents the chance to help members of the Reed community feel increasingly comfortable and safe on campus. With Toutain’s expertise and love for policy, the Reed community can continue to address the issue of discrimination within higher education and strive to make our campus the welcoming, safe environment that it is meant to be.