Opinion

Dept. of Education proposes changes to Title IX that will harm all students

Instead of empowering survivors and holding perpetrators accountable, the proposed Title IX changes introduced by the Department of Education in November 2018 create additional obstacles in an already fraught process. 

In 2015, a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities found that more than 25 percent of undergraduate women had experienced some instance of sexual assault during their time at UW-Madison. Even higher rates were reported for marginalized communities including Native American and LGBTQ+ students, as well as students with disabilities. 

The aftermath of sexual violence for survivors is devastating, with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide among some of the common effects of this grave violation of one’s self and safety. Given that over half of incidents of sexual violence are never reported, added confusion is the last thing the Title IX reporting process needs. The Department of Education must commit to protecting students, not making them a victim of bureaucracy. 

The proposed set of rules is obscured in pages of lengthy legislation, but ultimately there are five amendments which would significantly hinder the ability of our university to investigate sexual assault:

Requiring cross-examination of both parties at live hearings: Although UW-Madison’s current policy grants both parties questioning rights, questions are funneled through the chair of the hearing committee, providing a buffer between the complainant and the respondent. This change (§ 106.45(b)(3)(vii)) would eliminate that level of protection, requiring the complainant to answer questions from an adverse rather than a neutral party, increasing the potential of a survivor being retraumatized during the proceedings.

Restricting Title IX jurisdiction to on-campus incidents: Currently, universities are responsible for investigating incidents involving students, regardless of where the incident occurs. Proposed rule § 106.45(b) (3) would limit this responsibility to on campus events or during UW-Madison educational programming, excluding students participating in study abroad programs. Only 25 percent of students at UW-Madison live in on campus, leaving 75 percent of students unprotected. 

Eliminating house fellows and athletic coaches as viable reporters: The proposal requires formal complaints to be filed by someone “who has authority to institute corrective measures on behalf of the recipient” (§ 106.30). This excludes house fellows and athletic coaches, individuals whom many students feel most comfortable speaking to about such serious instances of exploitation. Restricting Title IX coverage to campus property while prohibiting reports filed by the on-campus employees most likely to be made aware of incidents is not just. 

Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment: the definition of sexual harassment would be narrowed from “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity” (§ 106.30). Language such as “severe,” “pervasive” and “objectively offensive” could confuse victims when deciding whether or not their experience qualifies, dissuading reporting altogether. 

Raising the standard of evidence: Finally, the required standard of evidence in Title IX cases would be raised (§ 106.45(b)(4)(i)), and universities would be allowed to opt for less formal mediation processes, in lieu of launching investigations into reports (§ 106.45(b) (6)). This change only further discourages victims of sexual assault by reducing the minimum action universities must take.

If you are concerned about these changes, an online public comment space will be open through Jan. 30. As university students who are directly impacted by this proposal, the Department of Education is legally required to respond to our concerns either through policy adjustments or justification before final regulations are enacted. 

A number of groups on campus are organizing around this issue and providing additional spaces for conversation and drafting of comments: PAVE will host a comment writing session on Jan. 24 from 3 to 7 p.m. in the Student Activity Center Room 3147. The TAA will host similar sessions on Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. at 520 University Ave., Suite 520; ASM’s Legislative Affairs Committee will be writing comments on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. in the SAC Caucus Room. 

It is incredibly important for the safety of students of our community, and students across the country, that you make your voices heard in response to the proposed changes to Title IX. This legislation directly affects the entire campus community, making student imput vital. Participation in this conversation is key in the fight for civil rights within the United States. 

Laura Downer (legislative@asm.wisc.edu) is a junior majoring in German, political science and international studies and is the chair of the ASM Legislative Affairs Committee. Billy Welsh (chair@asm.wisc. edu) is a senior majoring in political science and economics, and is the chair of ASM. Do you agree with the proposed changes to Title IX? Please send all your comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com

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