New Title IX regulations strengthen rights of accused

Arrington Luck

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced new Title IX regulations on Wednesday that would serve to strengthen the rights for students accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. The latest regulations reverse much of the Obama administration’s policies regarding campus sexual misconduct and will have significant repercussions for how the College adjudicates Title IX violations.

The recently released regulations touch upon virtually every area of adjudication for sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. In particular, the new regulations narrow the definition of sexual harassment. The regulations also mandate that colleges facilitate the cross-examination of respondents and complainants through an advisor and provide written documentation of any allegation. Furthermore, the rules give colleges the option to adopt either the preponderance of the evidence or a clear and convincing evidence standard for adjudicating cases of alleged sexual harassment.

In an email to the student body, Title IX coordinator Toya Camacho wrote that “the college is committed to creating a safe community for students, faculty, and staff — those working on Title IX and sexual assault prevention will continue to offer education and resources to prevent and address sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of sex and gender discrimination.”

Citing that the rules come into effect in August, Camacho reinforced that the College “will work to align our structures, policies, and procedures with the new regulations, federal and state law, and our institutional values of creating a safe and inclusive community.”

The new regulations have proven polarizing. The Trump administration and some student rights advocates have asserted that the new regulations serve to bring balance and fairness to a process that was unfairly tilted against respondents, while many survivor’s rights groups argue that the new regulations will disincentive students from reporting sexual misconduct.

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a press release. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues.”

Robert Shipley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, echoed similar sentiments.

“Today, we won an important victory. But our work is not over. We will continue to fight to ensure that students are afforded the rights now guaranteed to them when they return to campus this fall,” he said in a statement on the organization’s website.

Survivor’s rights groups, however, insist however that the new regulations would lead to a decrease in the number of incidents of sexual misconduct reported, something advocates assert is already troublingly low.

A tweet posted by watchdog organization Know Your IX asserts that if these new regulations go into effect “[they] will make schools more dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely.” 

Additionally, Fatima Gross Graces, the president of the National Women’s Law Center, and Derrick Johnson, the President of the NAACP, argue in a guest column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Title IX rules “would make it harder for students who are sexually harassed to receive vital support and protection, while mandating unfair processes for investigating and addressing sexual harassment. All these changes would particularly hurt black women and girls, who face even higher stakes when reporting sexual harassment.”

The ACLU, a civil liberties advocacy group, has come out in favor of some provisions of the new regulations while criticizing other aspects of them. 

“While the rule includes important provisions that promote fair process, it falls short in protecting students’ access to education,” said ACLU legal director Louise Melling. “We say once again to the Trump administration: See you in court.”

The announcement of these regulations is the culmination of a years-long process for DeVos’ Department of Education (DOE) that still has months before the implementation of these rules in August 2020. 

In November 2018, the DOE released the proposed changes for comment, allowing for individuals, organizations or institutions to weigh in on the proposed regulations. At that time, the college was firmly in opposition to the regulations, with President Maud S. Mandel writing in a comment that the then-proposed rules would “complicate and impede [the College’s] efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and discrimination at Williams.” She asserted that the changes would, amongst other things, “impose an adversarial model of adjudication that conflicts with our culture, educational goals, and reasoned determination of how to best investigate Title IX complaints in a fundamentally fair manner,” and “impose burdens on colleges and universities that far exceed the Department’s calculations of costs from the proposed rulemaking.”

When reached for comment on Wednesday by the Record about the recently released guidelines, the College’s Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische said that the administration was still reading and analyzing the regulations.

This is a developing story, and the Record will continue to cover these regulations and the College administration’s response as reactions unfold.