Betsy DeVos announces new addition to Title IX guidelines
Sexual misconduct on college campuses is once again making headlines, nearly two weeks after United States Secretary of Education Betsy Devos announced her intentions to change a set of Obama-era guidelines regarding sexual assault.
DeVos made a new announcement on Sept. 22 that allows colleges to chose whether they want to adhere to the Obama-era guidelines of “preponderance of the evidence,” or shift to a different standard called “clear and convincing evidence.” Preponderance means that evidence is qualified by how convincing and accurate it is rather than the amount of evidence.
Susan Groff, the Title IX coordinator at the university, said that nothing has changed. The United States Department of Education issued a Q&A, which stands as an interim guidance until they come out with the proposed guidelines. Groff added that it could be a year or a year and a half before anything definitive happens.
“Our Office of Student Conduct has always had preponderance prior to 2011 guidance,” Groff said.
According to Groff, the process for investigating sexual misconduct reports is a very extensive and private process. Both the complainant and the respondent have the right to look at all of the information that the investigator compiles into a draft report and then a final report. All parties also have the right to appeal.
The complainant is advised by Groff that reporting through the university is not a legal or law enforcement process. However, they have the right to go the legal route as well or choose to do one or the other or nothing, Groff said.
“We have created an environment here that makes it more comfortable to report and nothing’s changed yet so we’ll continue to operate as we’ve been operating and again conducting a fair and equitable process,” Groff said.
Karla Perez is a junior political science and philosophy double major. She also volunteers part-time as a Know Your IX campus organizer. According to Perez, Know Your IX is a student-led and mostly survivor-led organization that works with students to make them aware of their Title IX rights. Under Title IX, colleges that receive federal funding are legally required to respond and reconcile hostile educational environments.
According to Perez, the organization works on the campus, state and national level to either push back on legislation that might be harmful or promote a bill that would protect survivors’ rights. They were able to stop a mandated police reporting bill that was proposed in 2015 by a group of bipartisan women legislatures. The bill was harmful to survivors as it required all Delaware universities to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the police.
In regards to DeVos’ announcement, Perez said that is it harmful to survivors and student. Perez added that the announcement is a setback from all the work advocates have done to ensure that students get the rights and protection to feel safe going to school.
She said that the university could be doing more to help with this issue. She knows stories of survivors who were very dissatisfied with the university’s process.
“I think it also speaks for itself for the fact that our president has not made an announcement saying that he is going to be committed to upholding Title IX and the protections that were clarified under the 2011 ‘Dear Colleague Letter’,” Perez said.
Maddy Kilburn, a junior elementary education major, disapproves of DeVos’ announcement and feels like it could magnify problems with under-reporting and victim blaming.
“I feel like it backtracks a lot of the progress that has been made, and it’s already not a perfect system that we have so I feel like it’s just making it worse,” Kilburn said.
Groff said that as of now, nothing has changed, and the university will continue to use “preponderance of evidence” as the standard for all sexual misconduct cases.