Addressing Title IX changes: Why we must oppose the weakening of crucial protections

Editorial Board

In addition to our main editorial this week, the Record’s editorial board wishes to recognize the College’s Board of Trustees for allowing students to replace any one summer earnings contribution with additional grant aid. This change, we believe, is a meaningful step towards more equitably allowing all students to pursue a fuller range of summer opportunities, and we commend the board for it.

In November 2018, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced proposed rule changes for how educational institutions receiving federal funding must handle claims of gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination in line with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. For colleges and universities, the proposed changes will have their largest effect on how institutions adjudicate student disciplinary cases involving sexual harassment, assault and relationship abuse. With regards to the College, the most likely impact of these proposed rules would be to define more narrowly what types of unwelcome conduct qualify as harassment, reduce the College’s obligations to investigate off-campus conduct by students, require the College to use a live hearing model with cross-examination and allow the College to use mediation as opposed to a formal investigation model. The rules would also no longer require the use of a preponderance of the evidence standard, though it appears that the College could continue to use this standard under the new rules. 

We at the Record are concerned by many of these changes. Narrowing the  scope of the issues that the College may investigate, both in terms of the types of conduct and the locations in which it occurs, leaves the College powerless to investigate acts of violence that may deeply affect members of our community. Especially on a small, residential campus like ours, the practical delineation of off-campus and on-campus conduct is difficult. Requiring a live hearing model with cross-examination favors students who can afford to hire attorneys to represent them at such a hearing and creates a needlessly traumatic process. While mediation can allow for the implementation of more restorative practices in some cases, it can also cause complainants to be pressured into using informal processes against their wishes. 

We urge members of our community who are concerned by these proposed rules to submit a public comment at expressing their views on the proposal. The public comment period is open through Jan. 28, though this deadline was extended last week to a yet-to-be-announced date. Comments can lead regulatory agencies to revisit and even revise their proposed rules. We commend groups, such as RASAN, MASC and the office of sexual assault prevention and response, that have already led efforts to empower community members to submit their comments on these proposed rules. 

The College, if these rules are passed, must and should comply with them to maintain our eligibility for federal funding that is so crucial to this institution. However, even with these changes, the College can and should still reaffirm its commitment to investigate all acts of intimate violence that affect our community, regardless of whether they occur on- or off-campus. The College can and should still reaffirm its commitment to education, prevention and supportive work; the totality of the College’s response to gender-based violence is not and must not be our disciplinary process. The College can and should still reaffirm its commitment to respect and support complainants in seeking whatever resolution process they wish. These regulations are most concerning because they represent the Department of Education turning away from fighting gender-based violence on campuses; however, they do not, however, have to mean a turn away from fighting gender-based violence on our campus.