UC, student leaders comment on Department of Education’s proposed Title IX policy changes
The Trump Administration plans to implement changes to Title IX policies that would effectively roll back Obama-era guidelines — which, critics say, would increase the amount of proof required in order to punish offenders, among other policy changes. A 60-day period for the public to voice their opinions on these proposals opened on Nov. 29 and will close in late January.
The UC’s interim systemwide Title IX coordinator Suzanne Taylor took a firm stance against the Department of Education’s proposed changes in a press release sent on Nov. 16.
“The […] proposed changes will reverse decades of well-established, hard-won progress toward equity in our nation’s schools, unravel critical protections for individuals who experience sexual harassment, and undermine the very procedures designed to ensure fairness and justice,” Taylor said in the release. “This is yet another attack on students’ right to an educational environment free of sexual harassment.”
The federal government, by way of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX policy, would codify the steps federally-funded educational institutions are required to take regarding to sexual harassment.
As stated by The Chronicle of Higher Education, “College officials have been in limbo for the past year, since the secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance, which for six years had framed colleges’ approach to handling sexual assault and harassment.”
On Aug. 29, The New York Times obtained a drafted version of the new proposed Title IX rules. These rules were reported to have been written in such a way that they strengthened the rights of accusers and reduced the liability and financial costs for colleges.
The Times reported that these proposed rules “narrow the definition of sexual harassment, holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities and for conduct said to have occurred on their campuses.” The rules would also require schools to approach all cases “under the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty” and hold institutions to a higher legal standard.
A comment period for the public to voice their opinions regarding the proposed changes was opened Nov. 29 and will allow for the submission of feedback to the Department of Education for just 60 days. The period, which coincides with holiday breaks, will close around the end of January.
Title IX pertains to students as it bans sex discrimination in any federally-funded education program — if a student experiences a form of sex discrimination, they are protected and entitled to specific rights and may seek legal remedies if they choose to do so.
“Discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion,” according to the US Department of Education.
Taylor, the UC’s interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, said the proposed changes would “require universities to hold live hearings rather than implementing an investigative model,” allowing for the accused to cross-examine complainants who have come forward, according to her press release.
“[The Department of Education] proposes these rules under the guise of protecting respondents, yet UC’s procedures (and those of many other universities) already ensure due process, including the respondent’s right to question complainants and witnesses in a manner that does not cause further trauma,” Taylor stated.
UC Davis’ Chief Compliance Officer and Title IX Officer Wendi Delmendo said it is not necessary to have hearings with live cross-examinations.
“Given the thorough investigation process used by the university, these hearings will not result in more robust fact-finding or credibility determinations,” Delmendo said. “Instead, hearings will make the process take longer and expose all who participate in the process to further distress.”
Delmendo is responsible for overseeing efforts to ensure the university responds efficiently and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, in addition to educating folks in the UC Davis community about these topics.
“In my view, the proposed regulations are a big step backward,” Delmendo said. “While it is important to ensure our procedures are fair to both those who report sexual misconduct and those who are accused, the UC system has incorporated significant due process protections into our current procedures.”
Claire Chevallier, a fourth-year psychology major, vocalized her concerns through her platform as a member of the Sexual Assault Awareness Advocacy Committee, which aims to raise awareness about sexual violence and advocate for survivor rights. She is also one of two undergraduate representatives from UC Davis for the UC’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Board, which engages with students and provides feedback to the UC administration.
Chevallier was part of a group of students who traveled to Washington D.C. in early October to lobby at Capitol Hill. The group, mainly comprised of Associated Students of the University of California officials, visited congressional offices to voice student concerns.
“We expressed concern about […] minimizing the amount of reports that would go through, how they are not survivor-centric and how they would dissuade reporting and ultimately leave many people feel like their situations were not valid,” Chevallier said. “We also met with the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education — the folks who wrote this policy — and we got to present to them directly. I believe some change came from that, because their initial alleged policy change that only events that occurred on campus would be investigated was not included in the most recent press release.”
Chevallier believes the proposed policy changes are solely based on the department’s fear of reprimanding someone who has been falsely accused.
“While these do occur, the rate is only two to seven percent, which is not any different from other crimes,” Chevallier said. “While I understand the importance of due process and the right to a fair trial, […] I think these policy changes do more harm than good.”
The most upsetting aspect of the new Title IX guidelines, Chevallier said, is the new definition of sexual harassment.
According to The Times, the new proposal narrows the definition, defining it as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”
Chevallier said this new definition effectively de-legitimizes forms of sexual misconduct which are not deemed “severe,” such as “creepy sexual comments” — ultimately, leaving these forms of misconduct unaddressed and leaving “people feeling invalidated.”
“I have no doubt that these policy changes, if they [are] implemented, would severely minimize the already low number of reports made to Title IX, thus letting more perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual harassment off the hook,” Chevallier said.
Delmendo echoed this statement, adding that the proposed regulations would limit the university’s ability to respond to acts of sexual violence.
“This will seriously constrain the university’s ability to address sexual harassment that falls short of violating federal law,” she said. “While the proposed regulations do not have as significant an impact on the definition of sexual violence — sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking — they would limit the university’s ability to respond to such conduct that occurs outside university property or programs. Most sexual violence occurs in other contexts, but has a continuing impact on university property or in university programs.”
The Department of Education released a press release on Nov. 16 which states: “every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”
“It’s like they placed these provisions at the beginning of their list in an attempt to create an illusive frame that their policies are survivor-centered, […] when in fact they are just strengthening the rights of the accused, and we shouldn’t be fooled by that,” Chevallier said.
Members of the ASUCD Senate did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
If students have feedback about the way UC Davis handles and prevents sexual violence and sexual harassment, the UC Title IX Student Advisory Board is accepting responses via the following link: goo.gl/ueD6de
Written by: Priyanka Shreedar — firstname.lastname@example.org