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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Department of Education considers new Title IX sexual misconduct rules

Potential changes could alter how colleges respond to cases of sexual assault, harassment

The United States Department of Education is considering changes to sexual misconduct rules under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, according to a report released by The New York Times.

The act, which protects students from gender-based discrimination, is also interpreted to protect students from cases of sexual misconduct such as harassment, assault and rape. The changes could reduce the number of misconduct cases that undergo university proceedings, saving colleges money over time, according to an additional report by The New York Times.

Certain guidelines issued under President Barack Obama have been removed from the Department of Education website, and the new rules drafted under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are still not public.

Wendi Delmendo, the chief compliance officer and Title IX officer for UC Davis and UC Davis Health, has not yet seen the proposed regulations.

According to The New York Times, which has received copies of the proposed changes but has not made any public, schools would not be held accountable for investigating certain instances of sexual misconduct. For example, under the new guidelines, schools would not be required to investigate cases of sexual misconduct that occur off of school property or outside of school-sanctioned events.

Although the rules would not explicitly require schools to investigate such cases, schools may still be able to do so, Delmendo said. The UC system could potentially set its own guidelines, which might be stricter than the federal requirements.

“The way it’s been reported, it sounds like […] it’s saying, ‘This is what we are going to hold you responsible for, universities,’” Delmendo explained. “It’s not saying, ‘You can’t respond to conduct that happens elsewhere.’ Based on what I’ve read, the UC system would be able to set a higher standard.”

Delmendo later countered the claim that the number of cases reaching adjudication could decrease under the new rules, as was reported in The Times.

“I don’t think those numbers are very reliable [in our campus context],” Delmendo said. “It’s hard to see how the numbers will be reduced given what I think the University of California would do in response to the regulations. I think if we could keep our current policy and regulations in place we would do so.”

Sarah Meredith, the director of the Center for Advocacy, Resources & Education (CARE), described her view of the commitment that UC Davis has toward survivors of sexual assault. She said she doesn’t think the university would prioritize saving money “over creating a safer campus community.”

“I honestly don’t believe […] that there is anybody on our campus that is willing to say, ‘You know, this could save us some money if we implement these measures,’ and prioritize that over making the campus community safer,” she said.

CARE is one of a number of confidential resources on campus for individuals who have been victims of sexual misconduct or violence. Confidential resources are exempt from reporting requirements under Title IX, so a student can seek these resources without filing an official report.

Other confidential resources on campus include the Women’s Resources and Research Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual + Resource Center and university-run counseling services.

“As a confidential resource for sexual and dating violence, the Women’s Resources and Research Center is available to help students explore their reporting options and what the process may look like,” said Cecily Nelson-Alford, the director of the WRRC, in an email.

As a response to the proposed changes, Nelson-Alford pointed to one way that the UC system can support survivors of sexual misconduct and violence.

“Bolstering the resources for CARE offices across UC campuses is a sign that the UC system is moving toward survivor-informed practices, even during a time when our Presidential administration is not supportive of survivors,” Nelson-Alford said in an email.

Other proposed changes to Title IX rules include redefining the designation of those on-campus officials responsible for reporting incidences of sexual misconduct to a higher authority, such as the Title IX office, and using mediation as a potential tool for resolving cases.

Delmendo explained that nearly all university employees are considered responsible persons under the current guidance, and that mediation would be another tool toward the resolution of a case, but could be unsuccessful in dangerous harassment cases.

“Our current policy […] makes all university employees who aren’t confidential resources responsible for forwarding information that they receive about sexual harassment and sexual violence to me as Title IX coordinator,” Delmendo said. “I certainly wouldn’t think that mediation would be successful in resolving an egregious allegation of sexual harassment or sexual violence, particularly where the person who is accused could represent a potential danger to the campus community.”

The largest concern for Meredith regarding these proposed changes is the current state of ambiguity surrounding the rules.

“I imagine survivors on this campus reading that New York Times article and feeling like, ‘Then, why bother? I’m not going to report it, I’m not even going to talk to anybody about it,” Meredith said. “What I do really hope is that regardless of what is happening in our ever-changing federal landscape, people will at least continue to access CARE or any of the other confidential resources because that is a place where they can find [out] what is exactly happening on our campus.”

Written by: Kenton Goldsby — campus@theaggie.org


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