Even if you know little to nothing about it, you are almost certainly familiar with the phrase “Title IX,” if only from filling out college and job applications.
Title IX is part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, prohibiting gender-based discrimination. It reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal Financial Assistance.”
Now, United States Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is proposing a change to Title IX law that many feel puts the victims of sexual assault and harassment in danger.
Jeffrey Maher, the Director of Campus Safety and Compliance for Keene State College, said that there would be sweeping changes dramatically affecting all portions of Title IX Law.
“There are proposed changes to the definition of what we call sexual harassment, proposed changes to the obligation of employees and staff members to report misconduct when they become aware of it, and proposed changes to the grievance procedure,” Maher said.
The proposed changes to the law focus on the “rights of the accused,” and the process of filing a grievance is seriously impacted. Maher stressed that the proper terms are not “accused” and “victim,” but “responding party” and “reporting party.” If these changes are finalized, the federal government will mandate how colleges investigate sexual assault and harassment. This includes: “How much notice is given, how much time time is elapsed between different stages of the investigation, what might be characterized as whole discovery — what information gets shared with parties, and then for the actual hearing, it would require a live hearing and the reporting party and the responding party would both be subject to cross-examination by an advisor or an attorney of the opposing side,” said Maher.
Maher stressed that this is an issue that affects everybody on campus. These are sweeping changes that can impact every student if they are even tangentially involved in a grievance procedure.
Kelli Jo Armstrong, Title IX Coordinator at Keene State College, said that The Title IX office remains committed to serving students despite any changes to federal regulations, “We remain committed to making sure that we are in compliance with federal regulations, and making sure that our services are accessible to all of our students as well.”
Some students are confused by the changes.
“That seems weird, I’d kind of like to know why those changes are happening,” said First-year and Sustainable Product Design major John Leach. Leach suggested that this is not necessarily the most effective way to solve the problem of sexual assault on campus.
Currently, protection from sexual harassment and assault is an implied part of Title IX. Courts have ruled repeatedly in the past that harassment and assault restrict a person’s access to equal educational opportunities, thus people are protected from these things under Title IX. Devos has proposed changes to Title IX law that would severely limit the scope of what defines sexual harassment, and these changes would also let those accused of sexual misconduct cross-examine their accuser. Critics, including groups such as Human Rights Campaign, feel that these changes will make an already difficult process even more traumatic for those who are victims of sexual harassment or assault. These rule changes have been posted online and are open to public comment for sixty days, then the United States Department of Education will decide whether or not to make them official.
Alex Harvey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org