Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced proposed changes to the way college campuses are required to handle sexual assault on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. The Department of Education allowed a two-month long public comment period, which ended on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 5:00 p.m.
The public comment period allowed students, university administrators, Title IX officers and others to report their thoughts on the effects of the proposed changes.
Proposed changes to the federal Title IX policy would mean Title IX offices on college campuses are not required to investigate any student-to-student incidents reported to have taken place in off-campus areas — including student apartments, Greek organization facilities and abroad programs.
In addition to the areas of jurisdiction potentially changing, the proposed changes would also change the mandated reporting process. As of now, university employees — including but not limited to resident advisors, coaches and student employees — are required to report any incidents of sexual assault they have knowledge of. The proposed changes would change, and only require Title IX officers to file reports if they have knowledge of an incident.
Other proposed changes require live hearings, which Director of Title IX and ADA Maria Doucettperry fears will deter students from utilizing Title IX services.
“The proposed rules require all Title IX sexual harassment proceedings at institutions of higher education to include a live hearing at which the parties, through their advisors, are entitled to cross-examine the other party and any witnesses,” Doucettperry said. “I don’t believe that this requirement is appropriate within an academic setting. These procedures mimic legal proceedings without any of the safety nets customarily found in a legal environment. The University of Nevada, Reno is not equipped to be and does not wish to be, a judicial body. I believe this requirement will have a number of adverse effects to include deterring students from pursuing sexual harassment complaints and requiring unequal treatment of campus community members based on the type of misconduct alleged.”
Doucettperry also expressed concern regarding a new proposed regulation requiring the Title IX Office to dismiss complaints not amounting to sexual harassment.
“Additionally, the proposed rules state that in cases where the complaint alleges conduct that does not amount to sexual harassment as defined in the regulations, or the alleged conduct took place outside of the institution’s program or activity, the institution ‘must dismiss that complaint,’ (emphasis added),” Doucettperry said in an email to the Nevada Sagebrush. “This requirement seems to definitively deny a remedy notwithstanding the fact that otherwise actionable conduct that might even be defined in other governing laws, such as dating violence under Cleary, has occurred. This is concerning for the University in that this proposed rule seems to require us to ignore the needs of our community.”
On the university’s campus, a 2016 survey of sexual conduct and campus safety indicated 79 percent of “unwanted sexual conduct affecting our students occurs off campus,” according to Doucettperry.
While Doucettperry does see that most unwanted sexual conduct takes place off campus, she doesn’t feel this will affect student life.
“I think students are students,” Doucettperry said. “By that, I mean that I really don’t anticipate them changing their behavior or tendencies because of a regulation that limits the jurisdiction of campus authorities. If they typically attend parties and other functions off-campus, I think they will continue to do so. That said, these proposals will have some effect in that students would need to report incidents to local authorities (e.g., Reno Police Department) the University would still be able to provide resources to affected students, but would have no authority to govern are otherwise regulate the underlying conduct.”
Student and sexual assault victim Alexis Downey fears this will negatively impact students, as Title IX help students on a more personal level than law enforcement can.
“Things usually get taken care of because Title IX steps in,” Downey said. “I would almost say they’re more needed than the police in these cases for the fact that they help survivors to not have to interact with their assaulters on campus. They hold the fraternities accountable, they’ll deal with the guy next door in the dorm so you don’t have to seem him. That would 100 percent have a negative affect on students and the university as a whole.”
Project Coordinator Heather Kaminsky of Nevada Cares, a project aiming to increase education on intrapersonal violence, feels the proposed changes may require increased educational programs for groups on campus. Nevada Cares does not take individual cases or provide direct services to victims, but aims to provide preventative education on how to navigate assault when it impacts students’ lives.
“It’s not like it would change the way we operate because we have a grant through the Office on Violence Against Women where we are doing a lot more outreach and education on interpersonal violence and we do a lot more prevention,” Kaminsky said. “It would cause a need for more people to be informed of the impact of what the changes would be.”
The comments and input to the proposed Title IX changes will be legally required to provide responses in the coming months. If enacted, the changes are not expected to take effect until 2020.
Olivia Ali can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @OliviaNAli.