Isabel Dees is the daughter of immigrant parents, a first generation college student and the new Title IX Director of UC Santa Cruz. She brings years of familiarity and knowledge with her as both an alumni to the university and a faculty member. Dees worked as the lead coordinator at the Disability Resource Center (DRC) for eight years, before transferring to the Title IX office as an investigator for two years. 

Dees sat down with City on a Hill Press on Oct. 1 to answer a series of questions regarding her new position. 

City on a Hill Press: How do you plan to hold the community of UC Santa Cruz accountable for their actions? Do you believe the Title IX office has been holding the accused accountable?

Title IX Director Isabel Dees: Accountability looks lots of ways. It starts with being willing to be held accountable yourself. Sometimes it means doing a formal investigation, sometimes people need to be informed of what’s expected of them — otherwise it seems unfair for a rule they didn’t know existed. Really all the work that the office does is accountability work. Reminding folks that the policy [Title IX] is alive. 

[…] I believe the Title IX Office has been challenging cultural norms. […] I really hope that part of what I bring to this position is that lens to reroute our work back within that mandate. And to really be able to say how the outcome of any of our processes specifically stops, prevents, and remedies [harassment]. What I hope that I bring is being deliberate about drawing that connection.

CHP: Within a press release sent out by UC Santa Cruz director of news and media relations Scott Hernandez-Jason, you stated that the work of Title IX is civil rights work. What exactly does this mean?

Dees: It’s our job to make sure nobody is denied opportunity, participation or experiences harassment on the basis of gender or sex. Really understanding the reason that there is a Title IX Office is that disproportionately, sexual violence and harassment are a form of discrimination that has a disparate impact on certain populations. Femmes, folks with disabilities — the more these things layer and complicate, the more vulnerable a person is to harassment. 

This ties directly to educational outcomes. A person who is subject to harassment is much less likely to participate. If you don’t participate, you’re not learning, but as a community we’re deprived of your voice. That’s all civil rights. It’s who’s at the table, who’s included, what kind of table are we making. 

CHP: What is the importance of Title IX in relation to the activist movement #MeToo? Do you think these movements have inspired more people to come forward?

Dees: This wave of activism and the national climate underscore the importance of Title IX and this office existing. There’s a gap between the service experience and the [patron’s] experience, which I see as an opportunity. You have lots of people willing to engage, feeling really passionate. 

[…] I think conflict is really important to have at the table — it’s important to be challenged. So I see this specific moment in time as a really exciting time to be a director in an office like this. The challenge is, how do you channel it? How do you use it as an opportunity to bridge the service gap? I see that activism as a natural part of campus culture and it’s exciting to see activism in this area at this moment on a national level, but also echoed locally.