Jess Varga Takes On New Position as SMC’s Title IX Coordinator
She's engaging with the campus community to help guide the work of Title IX. “I look forward to collaborating with everyone and finding innovative ways to make Title IX a resource available to all,” she says.
When Jess Varga arrived at Saint Mary’s College of California in August 2023 as its newly-hired, first-ever full-time dedicated Title IX Coordinator, she brought with her 20 years of higher education experience united by a common thread: a commitment to accountability coordination.
“I want to turn what is on paper—a seemingly legalistic and detached process for support and remedy—into a simplified and accessible process,” she says. “The goal is to have Saint Mary’s Title IX work comply with the laws that guide the work and also reflect the unique values and mission of the Saint Mary’s community.” Varga looks forward to connecting and engaging with as many Saint Mary’s community members as possible, from students, faculty, and staff, so she can help guide the work of Title IX.
Her vision is to have the Title IX Support and Compliance Office be a resource for everyone to learn, ask questions, seek assistance, and be heard.
Joining Varga are three deputy coordinators who, like her, bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to those needing assistance.
Travis Mason, the Deputy Coordinator for Students, is Associate Dean of Students and Director of Community Life. Angela Alley-Street, the Deputy Coordinator for Employees, is Director of Employee Relations, Leadership, and Development. Kami Gray, Deputy Coordinator for Athletics, is Athletics Director for Internal Operations and Senior Women’s Administrator.
What is Title IX?
What is Title IX and why is it so important for all SMC stakeholders—staff, faculty and students— to understand it?
Title IX, as Varga explains it, is a federal law to protect individuals against discrimination based on sex (including sexual harassment). As an educational institution that receives federal funds, Saint Mary’s must ensure Title IX compliance. The comprehensive federal law was passed in 1972 to ensure that male and female students and employees in educational settings are treated equally and fairly.
Additionally, Title IX protects transgender students and students who do not conform to gender stereotypes. California state law also prohibits discrimination based on gender (sex), gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
“I look forward to collaborating with everyone and finding innovative ways to make Title IX a resource available to all,” Varga says.
The preamble to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 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.”
“The law says we can’t discriminate against any person on the basis of sex (inclusive of gender),” Varga says. “The College has policies, procedures, resources, supportive measures, and educational opportunities to comply with the law. If someone believes they have experienced any of the behavior that falls under ‘discrimination based on sex/gender,’ the College has measures to stop that behavior, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects.”
It is important for everyone in the SMC community to understand Title IX, Varga adds, because, quite simply put, it protects them. “Saint Mary’s has this so each person can be successful in the pursuit of their education and employment without sex/gender discrimination.”
Varga’s Career Immersed in Service
Title IX requires that each institution receiving federal funds—such as universities or school districts—must have at least one person designated as the Title IX Coordinator. Varga’s 20 years of higher education experience positions her extremely well to serve the Saint Mary’s community in that role.
“I’ve guided my career to include areas which allow for including restorative justice practices in my work,” Varga says. She began her career in student life administration, before transitioning into student services and Title IX-related behaviors. “I’ve always enjoyed building policy and procedures that are not only logistically manageable, but are aware of the lived experience of every person.”
Varga is no stranger to the Bay Area: She graduated from Sonoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration and went on to serve in various roles at her alma mater. More recently, she served as the Title IX Coordinator at the University of San Francisco. Varga also earned a master’s in Leadership Management from York St. John University in York, England, and has worked at institutions throughout the United States, including Willamette University in Oregon, Stetson University in Florida, and South Seattle College in Washington.
Near-term and Long-term Priorities Part of Varga’s Comprehensive Plan
Three months into her new position at Saint Mary’s, Varga has outlined a comprehensive plan for priorities, near-term and long-term. Her near-term priorities include centralizing SMC’s current policy and procedures to be compliant with Title IX, California law, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities, including California community colleges, to record specific campus crime statistics and safety policies for consumer protection.
Varga says this means clarifying definitions, jurisdiction, and formal grievance procedures.
She also is seeking to increase educational opportunities: in the form of new workshops, lunch-and-learn events, as well as through social media, updating the Title IX page on the SMC website, and other communication channels. Varga will create and launch a new mandated reporter training for all SMC employees. While she says there is anti-harassment training that incorporates some mandatory reporting implementations, she sees this as a way to build on the accomplishments of the CARE Center, the Center for Women and Gender Equity, SMC Survivors, and so many others. “I want to add to their already phenomenal prevention and education work,” Varga says.
As for her long-term priorities, she hopes to inspire and create robust annual educational programs for students, staff, and faculty. These would include continued education on consent, community expectations, and resource refreshers for each class year of students, and for new and continuing employees.
Finally, Varga wants to increase the avenues for reporting, through the website and elsewhere.
“I look forward to collaborating with everyone and finding innovative ways to make Title IX a resource available to all,” Varga says. And to the SMC community, she has this message: “I welcome the opportunity to learn from you about your SMC experiences and hear thoughts and ideas to include in our philosophy and strategy of supporting a campus that does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
That sense of community is a strength of Saint Mary’s, and it’s important to her work. “This first year, I aim to focus on listening, engaging and learning,” she says, “to build upon the great work already being done, and to understand and implement needs to fulfill the mission of a violence and discrimination-free campus.”
Kevin Wing is Director of Media Relations and News at Saint Mary’s. Write him.