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Is Hogwarts a Metaphor for Title IX Compliance?

Brett A. Sokolow, J.D., TNG Consulting, LLC

“Oh, and keep an eye on the staircases. They like to change…”

Some of you know that I’ve always been a pretty big Harry Potter fan. I had a Shar Pei named Hogwart. I currently have a Maltipoo named Luna. Had a cat named Dobby. I had a modest little runabout boat that the kids named “Mischief Managed”, though it was probably just the opposite. The Harry Potter stories resonate for me both emotionally and intellectually. Professional lessons abound. There are all kinds of graduate management courses framed around the lessons of Dumbledore, for example, and even a terrific law review article. But, today, I want to focus not on Harry Potter broadly, but on Hogwarts (the castle, not the dog), the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series. Have you ever given thought to how twisted the architect of the school must have been? What were they on? In the year 993, the architect and the founders devised a seven-story building with 142 moving staircases. Moving staircases? Yes, an acid trip legacy from the Middle Ages, the staircases of Hogwarts are in constant motion, often as students are ascending or descending.

The walls of Hogwarts don’t move, just the staircases. The walls – the superstructure – is immutable and remained (mostly) intact after Voldemort’s attack in Deathly Hallows. Liken that to the many lawsuits attacking Title IX over 50 years. Yet, it’s still standing. The walls are the 37 words of the Title IX statute. The container, if you will, for the content within. Those moving staircases, they are the Title IX regulations. They are constantly in flux. Just when you think you know the path where one leads, the government or the courts change it, and you suddenly can’t get there from here, anymore.

Diabolically changing staircases are a great literary contrivance. Maybe the original Hogwart’s architect would – in today’s branding terms – sell Rowena Ravenclaw on them as a feature. I’d suggest they are a glitch or quirk, at best, but maybe they are a feature. On first read, they just reinforce the oddity of the wizarding world as apart, distinct. But, what if they were intended to teach important lessons? There’s a hint at that. Arriving late to Professor McGonagall’s class as first-year students, Harry and Ron assert to her (after she de-transfigures from her cat fursona) that they got lost, no doubt on account of the mutable staircases.

McGonagall suggests to them that future lateness could be prevented by using a map. Does that mean that wizarding maps are mutable too, changing every time the stairwells lead somewhere else? Of course, it does. That’s where ATIXA (the Association of Title IX Administrators) comes in. We know the outer walls of Title IX are unlikely to change. We’ve accepted that the staircases will wander. So, we charted the map, and we update it for our members every time the staircases change, because we don’t want our field to get lost on the way to Divination or Potions.

So, what’s the feature, as this just sounds like a pain in the A$$. Well, the young witches and wizards at Hogwarts could learn some lessons, if they are paying attention. Like what? A path well-trodden won’t always get you to your intended destination. Life is full of roadblocks and detours. You need to learn to pay attention, expecting that the staircases will move, so as not to be caught by surprise. Stay nimble and dexterous. You could learn that you need a map, and to consult it regularly, as the routes shift. You may even get to the point of anticipating where the moving staircase may take you, as we are doing right now in anticipation of new Title IX regulations in late 2023 or early 2024.

Educated guesses may help you to get to class on time. We talk about building the plane while flying it, with respect to implementation timelines for the Title IX regulations. Daunting? Sure. But, Hogwarts has a metaphor for that, too. Even if you have a map, and know how the staircases have changed, you are still at risk that they will shift in real time, while you are on them. We may not know where a staircase will go, but we can anticipate several paths it may take, to assess the possible routes that may be available to us. That’s a lot like the many variable resolution approaches the Title IX proposed regulations will permit within sections 106.45 and 106.46.

The proposed Title IX regulations offer a return to similar processes that the field used pre-2020. The more the staircases change, the more they stay the same, meaning that they often return to previous paths, even after momentary deviations. We have worked with difficult rules now since August of 2020. Sometimes, you have to take a detour to get to the same place. By moving, the staircases demand your attention. They aren’t just fixtures. The route we take, the steps we make, they matter. The destination is the goal, but how we get there is governed by federal law, and we have to get to the right result via the right path.

This is our field. We have solid walls framing our compliance obligations, but the inner details keep changing. Finding the right staircase at the right time, leading to the right place, is something that all of us can only learn with time, training, and diligent study.

And, I’ll bet you’ve figured this out. The Room of Requirement? Under Title IX, that’s ATIXA. Filled with whatever you need, whenever you need it. The Room wasn’t on the Marauder’s Map, but you can find it right here:

The author of this Tip acknowledges that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has become controversial for her positions on gender identity. The author of this Tip does not agree with Rowling’s position on gender transition and identity and thinks that people ought to be able to identify however they wish, and believes that no one else has the right to tell anyone else how to identify. That said, this Tip is about magic staircases (which are not real), not gender ideology (which is real), and is not an endorsement of Rowling’s political beliefs.