United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently proposed Title IX changes regarding sexual assault and harassment cases. These changes focus on due process rights and how reports of sexual misconduct are handled.
Title IX “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance…,” as defined by the United States Department of Education. DeVos’ proposal would take place of the previous rules set under the Obama administration, affecting how colleges can investigate and pursue sexual misconduct claims while adding protection to the student accused.
Stephanie Spitz, campus victim advocate, said that this proposal “would change everything” for those on college campuses.
“One of the proposed regulations is to remove responsible employees from reporting or responding to sexual assault on campus,” Spitz said. “For example, residential assistants wouldn’t be responsible employees with these proposals. The schools will only need to investigate these incidents if a responsible employee, the right employee, is told about it. You can’t hold anyone accountable if it’s not sent to the Title IX coordinators. Therefore, job responsibilities could change, policy could change, and victim’s rights could change on campuses. Some other points of concern are that schools could ignore sexual violence that occurs outside of a school program, require schools to use live cross examinations which could open the door for potential victim blaming and retraumatization by their assailant, and schools would only have to investigate the most extreme forms of harassment.”
Spitz said she has “mixed feelings” about the proposed changes to Title IX.
“… I’m happy they’re including due process and greater clarity upon policy and procedure,” she said. “However, I’m concerned with several of the proposals limiting victim protections and protections for those that don’t identify based on their biological sex, but rather their gender… These proposed regulations reverses almost every point of progress that former President Obama had put into place…”
Students for Violence Prevention (SVP) and Student Alliance for Gender Equality (SAGE) paired together for an informational tabling session in the Overman Student Center Wednesday, Dec. 5 to present about the Title IX proposed changes and to educate students. Mekayla Melvin, junior in psychology and SAGE president, said she does not think these changes would be good if adopted.
“I am personally disappointed in the proposal because there are changes that would harm students in position that have been sexually assaulted or could be, such as the cross-examination and more to that,” Melvin said.
Melvin believes students should be worried about the proposed changes and encourages students to educate themselves on the matter. She also believes these changes would put past and potential survivors at risk.
“Personally, I think it makes me less likely to want to be on campus because even by putting this position on the school—which is proposed—to take care of the matters it makes it where they have to do it quicker and they are the ones that determine whether or not they are allegations,” she said. “So, I personally would feel safe on campus.”
According to “The Daily Chronicle,” DeVos said in a statement, “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.” With this, DeVos calls for a focus on due process, which has streamed controversy among many, including PSU students.
“I think (the proposal) needs some work,” said Julia Turner, sophomore in nursing and SVP member. “… I like how they’re trying to make it more fair to both the survivors and the alleged perpetrator, but I also think they need to work to be more sympathetic to the survivors and to focus more on believing them.”
Another aspect of the proposal is the degree at which a university can step in for investigation, as the proposal states that schools must respond only to “conduct within its education program or activity,” which leaves grey area to sexual misconduct that may happen off-campus, such as at parties. In comparison, the 2011 proposal defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” which would change with DeVos’ proposal.
“I would say the most important thing for (students) to know is that they have upped the severity of… The evidence needed for sexual assault,” Turner said. “It used to be, I believe, within a reasonable doubt and they can act on it, but now it is clear and that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind, which makes it a lot more difficult to get anything done. I think that’s probably the most important thing to take away because it’s going to be, again, more difficult for survivors to get any action.”
According to the “Daily Chronicle,” the Department of Education said, “the proposal ensures fairness for students on both sides of accusations, while offering schools greater flexibility to help victims even if they don’t file a formal complaint or request an investigation.”
“As a student, God forbid, if anyone does or is sexually assaulted or something I think it’s going to make it a lot more difficult to have anything done through the school,” Turner said. “It seems like you need to make a formal complaint for anything to actually happen. And while it does say that, but like reading between the lines, upping the severity of the sexual assault for the school to do anything is probably a step in the wrong direction and I think we need to make it more like there’s action, like more preventative than reactive.”
DeVos’ proposal calls for a need of formal complaint, and if no formal complaint is made, then the university does not have to investigate. In addition, when an investigation is made the accused must be allowed to cross-examine their accuser.
Spitz believes that if this proposal is adapted to Title IX then students may be less likely to report sexual misconduct incidents or seek help.
“… People don’t report these kinds of things if they don’t feel safe and supported in their community which could lead to PTSD, dropping out of school, or anxiety or depression among other impacts,” Spitz said.
Spitz encourages students to become educated on Title IX and the proposed changes and recommends viewing www.knowyourix.org.
“… I would hope that (students would) get involved in the conversation and perhaps take action if that’s what they’re comfortable doing to protect those rights and voice their opinions,” she said.
For those interested in participating in the notice and comment period, Spitz suggests visiting www.endrapeoncampus.org for more information. The proposal’s comment period ends January, 28, 2019.