U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her plans to implement a new policy that will allow colleges to have more flexibility in balancing the rights of accused students, according to the New York Times. She said in a Sept. 7 speech this policy would replace guidelines put forth by the Obama Administration because the current policies aren’t working and are “increasingly elaborate and confusing.”
Rebekah Strain, the BYUH Title IX deputy coordinator, attended a conference in Philadelphia about the new guidelines. She said, “No one really knows how it will play out over the next year.” She said reactions have been mixed about the new policy some universities appreciate less oversight and federal involvement, while others feel they’re not lessening oversight but changing direction.
“Victim advocate groups are the most upset about the direction the new administration seems to be going. The Obama administration took a very victim-centered approach to Title IX. The feeling was universities were turning a blind eye to campus sexual misconduct.”
DeVos gave an example of a problem with the current guidelines: a male student is under Title IX investigation for writing “Sarah Jackson” as the instructor’s name because he didn’t know it. However, that is the name of a model, and so he was accused of objectifying the female instructor and was investigated for sexual harassment.
Strain said, “The Trump administration seems to be taking a less heavy-handed, victim-centered approach and is considering moving toward a process closer to the criminal justice system which places strong emphasis on the due process rights of the accused party.”
However, Strain explained these are called interim guidelines – they are there until the permanent ones are put in place. She said many schools aren’t changing their rules because “the new guidelines change a lot of ‘musts’ or ‘shalls’ into can or may. They are giving suggestions, not imposing mandates.”
DeVos said in her speech, “There is no way to avoid the devastating reality of campus sexual misconduct: lives have been lost. Lives of victims. And lives of the accused.” She talked about a male student who told her, "Whatever your accusers say you are is what people believe you are."
Gabby Corbett, a junior from Washington, D.C. studying intercultural peacebuilding, said, “Maybe it is an issue that people are being falsely accused. But it’s a lot more of an issue of people being raped or abused.”
Only 20 percent of female college students between ages 18 to 24 who were victims of sexual assault report it to law enforcement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, with 32 percent of non-student females in the same age group.
Adolfo Arellano, a sophomore from Mexico studying political science, said every university is different and should have common policies, but he thinks it’s better for each university to decide for each individual case. He referred to reasons such as cultural differences that can vary.
For example, Arellano said, “Some girls in Utah may consider something offensive, when in California they maybe wouldn’t.” Being from Mexico, he said a kiss on the cheek while meeting girls is normal. Furthermore, if he gave his friend a kiss on the cheek and they were with another friend, he may give her a kiss on the cheek also, to not exclude her. But for her, it could feel offense or intrusive.
DeVos gave the example of someone who saw a couple playing around might misread the situation and report the boyfriend to the Title IX office. The girlfriend might say it wasn’t unwanted behavior, but the school still accused and expelled her boyfriend from the college.
Arellano said he’s seen guys get in trouble for doing dumb things, but he’s also seen them get in trouble for things people saw wrong. He said the school can be biased, especially when whoever reported the issue said something bad first.
Strain said, “BYUH students should notice changes regarding Title IX on campus.” She said the changes won’t come from the new guidelines, but instead from the university’s new Sexual Misconduct Policy. “The main change, which is already being implemented, is the separation of Title IX from the Office of Honor.”
She said Title IX is already a new office, and all cases of sexual misconduct will be addressed to the Title IX office only; it will investigate the sexual misconduct complaint only and not any Honor Code violations.
“Any Honor Code violation related to the sexual misconduct complaint will have no bearing on the process and will not be referred to the Office of Honor at any time before, during, or after the investigation.”
She said the hope is to have victims of sexual misconduct be more willing to come forward without fear of disciple. “We encourage students to report cases of sexual misconduct so the university can help remedy the situation, protect other students from harm, and correct any institutional problems.”