Story by Kristi Jones / Contributing Writer
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The Federal Government Education Department finalized the changes to the Title IX Policy and have been put into place since Aug. 14.
“Our updated policy meets the new requirements of the federal regulations. The policy requires a member of the University community to file a formal complaint of sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking, dating or domestic violence to a Title IX investigator. The investigator collects information from the parties involved or anyone who may have knowledge. The investigator summarizes the information. This part of the process is the same. However, rather than the summary report being sent directly to a hearing officer to determine if a violation occurred, a hearing officer will conduct a live hearing that includes cross examination of the parties and witnesses. The cross-examination will be conducted by an advisor that each party chooses. After the hearing, the hearing officer will prepare a report and determine if a University policy has been violated,” said Title IX Coordinator Marian Wilson.
The final draft of the policy changes was quickly met by opponents who believe that less students will come forward and report their trauma.
“We released a final rule that recognizes we can continue to combat sexual misconduct without abandoning our core values of fairness, presumption of innocence and due process,” DeVos said in a call with AP reporters.
The changes put into place will narrow the definition of what sexual harassment is and what requires colleges and investigate.
Students will not be able to question one another through a representative during live hearings. DeVos added new limits to her final ruling in the policy stating that students must never be allowed to speak to one another directly and only what campus official deem “relevant” can be asked.
The Education Department finalized the policy after reviewing more than 120,000 public comments in response to DeVos’ proposal.
The National Women’s Law Center has promised to take legal action.
“Betsy DeVos’ rules go into effect today but our fights in the courts continue. We are confident that these dangerous rules will eventually be set aside – but schools can’t wait. Schools must set a better standard for students by increasing protections for survivors of sexual harassment, instead of using this as an opportunity to risk student safety and dignity. As students head back to school during a health pandemic surrounded by uncertainty, schools can at least have students’ backs when it comes to sexual harassment and assault,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice at NWLC.
Other opponents believe that the new policy forces the victims to relive their trauma.
The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, an association of more than 200 public universities, said they still have significant concerns about cross examinations, saying the requirement will likely discourage reporting.
The university will monitor the reports over the next year to see if there are changes, according to Wilson.
Under the new rules, the definition of sexual harassment is narrowed to include “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it denies a person access to a school’s education programs or activity.
The Obama administration, by contrast, used a broader definition that included any “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Universities and schools will be forced to dismiss any cases that does not meet all requirements of the updated definition. Any allegation of rape or sexual assault will be deemed to meet the new definition.
Wilson added, “Issues of sexual misconduct are traumatic regardless of the regulations or processes in place, and we should not forget that. We should also not forget that the new regulations will not change how an individual is treated in the process at [Middle Tennessee State University]. Respect and fairness are fundamental and will continue to be the standard for all who are involved. Additionally, supportive resources have always been available to both parties and they continue to be.”
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