Nearly 100,000 comments submitted across the nation during public comment period
Nearly 100,000 comments were submitted during the 60-day window allowing the public to submit feedback on the Department of Education’s proposed changes to campus sexual assault policies and guidelines. At least a portion of those comments came from UC Davis students.
Students, including those from the UC Title IX Student Advisory Board (UC TIXSAB), the ASUCD Sexual Assault Awareness Advocacy Committee (SAAAC), Senate and graduate students from Native American Studies, sent a letter to Brittany Bull of the U.S. Department of Education in late January regarding the department’s proposed changes to federal Title IX policy.
The letter sent to the department specifically addressed changes in policy which would create greater barriers for survivors seeking justice.
It also made note of explicit sections of the proposed changes that were of concern, including the definition of sexual harassment, “allowing universities to choose the standard of evidence,” the requirement that universities “use live hearings and cross-examinations to investigate a formal complaint” and narrowing the scope of what universities are held accountable.
“We believe the proposed regulations are fundamentally contrary to Title IX’s mission of protecting students from sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination,” the letter stated.
Claire Chevallier, a fourth-year psychology major, an undergraduate representative for UC TIXSAB and a committee member for ASUCD SAAAC, had previously voiced her concerns on the changes last December after lobbying at Capitol Hill.
Chevallier discussed the contents of the letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education this past January.
“The comment […] delineated our opposition to several of the proposed rule changes and explained how they would negatively impact our community,” Chevallier said. “The proposed guidance would further reduce the rate of sexual misconduct reports and thus make it more difficult for victims of sexual misconduct to seek justice. Current Title IX policies already take multiple measures to ensure a fair trial and, conversely, the new rule would cause an issue of due process.”
In the letter to the department, UC Davis students first addressed proposed limitations set on a university’s jurisdiction to on-campus incidents or incidents occurring “within a university program or activity.”
“Regardless of an event’s affiliation with the university, sexual violence and sexual harassment may significantly impact the education of the students involved,” the letter stated. “Therefore, if an institution does not consider non-university affiliated cases of sexual violence, it would fail to account for a significant quantity of cases. Consequently, the path to justice for many students would be severely narrowed, and students’ rights to a discrimination free educational environment would be threatened.”
By restricting the scope of complaints that fall under “sexual harassment,” the letter continued, universities would be “ill-equipped to address the broad array of cases which may not meet this strict definition but nonetheless hinder and harm student participation and performance in the academic environment.”
In their reference to the proposed allowance of universities to choose their own evidentiary standards and the proposed live cross-examinations, UC Davis students argued that proposed policy changes would not only heighten the pain and pressure experienced by survivors, but “elicit a culture of disbelief” surrounding the cases that are reported.
Chevallier said she and the other students who authored the letter hope Education Secretary Betsy DeVos takes the “thousands of concerns” submitted during the public comment period to heart.
“We have expressed in our comment we would like to see the DoE adopt legislation in line with the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, which proposed policies that highlighted equity and due process without creating an unlevel playing field for the accuser,” Chevallier said.
Students can remain updated about the latest news concerning Title IX policy and UC Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy and procedures via the UC TIXSAB Facebook page.
Written by: Priyanka Shreedar— firstname.lastname@example.org
Campus news reporter Rebecca Bihn-Wallace also contributed to this report.