Spotlight #002: An Interview with Michelle Disson
At a small, fresh institution like Florida Polytechnic University — which opened for instruction in 2014 and has fewer than 2,000 students, faculty and staff — establishing a campus culture that upholds Title IX protections, along with other equity missions, is crucial. Michelle Disson serves as Florida Polytechnic’s Title IX and ADA Coordinator. When it comes to Title IX, Disson said she is “a party of one.”
“I do everything from initial intake at this moment, I do investigations, I do the training,” Disson said, “and I oversee the programming as well.”
With ADA compliance, Disson oversees other campus offices the Office of Disability Services, facilities and human resources to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures are followed. The intersection of Title IX and ADA compliance is centered on giving students equitable experiences.
“We want to make sure that students can continue their educational journey and have options and resources,” Disson said. “With the ADA, you want to make sure that everyone’s treated fairly and has an equal opportunity to continue their education and experience programs and activities within the university.”
Those options and resources, Disson said, present themselves through various student-life-centric offices like Florida Polytechnic’s Academic Success Center, Counseling Services and CARE Services, which handles student health and wellness along with crisis and safety concerns.
Those campus resources are supplemented with online information about Title IX and a reporting tool available on Florida Polytechnic’s website.
Florida Polytechnic provides Title IX education and training, Disson said, for students, faculty and staff. Each year, Florida Polytechnic employees complete Title IX training through Get Inclusive. New employees also receive training in their new hire orientation as well.
“For students, we are involved in orientation,” she said. “All of the new students who attend orientation get the training … They are provided, from Get Inclusive, Voices for Change. So, all students have to complete Voices for Change before they’re allowed to register for the following semester.”
In addition to the student body’s education through Voices for Change, Disson provides open sessions for faculty to learn more about Title IX obligations and programming for students on topics like healthy relationships, sex education, sexual violence prevention and intimate partner violence prevention.
With Get Inclusive, Disson said they are the only system she has implemented that receives positive feedback.
“Most people understand that, yeah, I have to do this every year, especially the employees,” Disson said. “But I typically hear, ‘This was horrible, this takes so much time, I didn’t really get anything out of it.’ With Get Inclusive, I have found more people recognizing … it got the point across, and ‘Hey, I’m remembering now I need to do this. I have this exact scenario.’”
Disson added that she appreciates the types of questions that are asked in the training modules. Evaluating answers to open-ended prompts allows her to identify what is important to students and learn more about them.
“I was very hesitant in the beginning of my time with Get Inclusive of the many open-ended questions,” she said. “I have found that has been almost invaluable when I go through them, just even [to] get a sense of what is the tone … that has been very helpful with students. I learned so much about our student population that you wouldn’t typically get from a first-year experience survey.”
Moving forward, Disson said Florida Polytechnic hits a lot of aspects in regard to Title IX compliance and education, with Get Inclusive in that mixture of resources. A goal she identified: continuing to get information out to students and remind faculty about reporting options. Progressing this outreach harkens back to the inherent values of Title IX and ADA.
“It is important to provide an equitable experience for students,” Disson said.