A Conversation with Rollins’ New Title IX Director

This past December, Rollins welcomed Sarah Laake as the new director of the Office of Title IX, which is committed to making our community a safe space for everyone.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

Sarah Laake, Rollins new Title IX director, dedicates every day to making an impact, to working toward a goal of a safe and violence-free Rollins community. The role is a perfect fit for Laake, whose broad and varied experience in victim advocacy, accommodations and support, compliance, and investigations has uniquely positioned her for the multilayered demands of the Office of Title IX.

Laake attended the University of South Carolina at Columbia for undergrad, where she created her own degree that combined social work, public health, and criminal justice. As a college student, she served as a volunteer victim advocate, which sparked her interest in the field and in helping others feel safe and heard. Laake went on to get her master’s in justice and public policy at American University after which she served as a hotline manager overseeing a 24/7 crisis line at House of Ruth, the only domestic violence shelter in Baltimore.

From there, Laake consulted federal agencies like the FBI on leadership development training, management, and process improvement before moving to Florida and landing at UCF, where she worked for six years. She started as the assistant director of victim services, providing crisis intervention advocacy and support services to the UCF community and developing training programs, community outreach events, and fundraising efforts. She then served as the lead Title IX investigator focused on sexual misconduct, gender-based discrimination, harassment, and relationship violence.

Laake came to Rollins as the director of the Title IX office this past December, and we recently had a chance to sit down with the undaunted advocate to discuss the role and her vision for the office.

Why is this work important to you? “I’m a very fair-minded person, and Title IX is all about fairness and equity. The basis of the law is to prohibit sex-based discrimination in institutions receiving federal funds. In a small college like Rollins, it’s important to make sure any systems in place are equitable on both sides and to prevent anything that limits a person’s access to education. I like being a source of strength for people and making sure they’re receiving the support and resources they need to navigate very difficult situations.”

How did you find Rollins’ Title IX office when you arrived? “I was impressed by the robust system Rollins had in place and that people weren’t afraid to talk about the issue on campus. The team has done great outreach and awareness, and it’s wonderful to see the welcoming, collaborative community here at Rollins and how people really care.”

What do people not know about Title IX? “People tend to forget that Title IX doesn’t say anything about women or one sex or the other. Title IX is focused on eliminating sex-based discrimination, and anyone can be discriminated against. It’s also important to remember that on a college campus, Title IX represents everyone, including faculty and staff, not just students.”

What are you excited about this semester? “On April 16 is our big event, Rollins Rally to End Violence, which coincides with Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. It’s a great way for the community to come together and raise awareness about the important issue of violence on college campuses. We’ll all gather on Mills Lawn, where various students organizations and community partners like Harbor House and Planned Parenthood will provide information on healthy relationships and how we can make our campus a violence-free community. There’ll also be a special dance performance that expresses trauma and a performance from John Proctor is the Villain.”

Why did you come to Rollins? “So many reasons! I wanted to move to a smaller, more intimate environment than UCF where I could really build relationships. Everyone I talked to who worked at Rollins or graduated from here or both just loves it. I could see how committed people were to this special place, and I was inspired by the mission and to have the opportunity to impact students who are going to be future leaders. Rollins felt like a place where I could develop a home, a place where people are willing to truly collaborate, and you just don’t get that everywhere.”

What’s your vision for the future of Title IX at Rollins? “I think it’s important to review all the current policies and procedures in place that are related to Title IX to make sure they work together and don’t conflict. I’d also like to establish a peer education program as well as a training series or certificate program that anyone on campus could participate in to better understand what trauma does to someone, how to disclose, and how they can support the Title IX process.”

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