Under Title IX, American University (well, all American universities, but I’ll focus on my own) prohibits sex or gender-based harassment and discrimination, sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking. It also protects university members against sexual harassment, discrimination, discriminatory harassment, dating and domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and stalking.
Title IX basically has zero tolerance for discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, personal appearance, gender identity and expression, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, veteran status, an individual’s genetic information or any other bases under federal or local laws in literally all university-affiliated activities, events, and in daily campus life. Additionally, the university explicitly prohibits any type of discriminatory harassment. Dating harassment includes dating violence, domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking.
What Are the New Changes?
On May 6th, the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a Final Rule to changing the Title IX obligations to all schools receiving federal funding. These new changes perpetuate harmful rhetoric and anti-survivor principles. The new regulations contain damaging provisions that deliberately bolster the rights of those accused of Title IX violations and threaten hundreds of thousands of students’ civil right to an education free from discrimination and harassment.
The new regulations ultimately narrow the definition of sexual misconduct on college campuses. They define sexual harassment as a “school employee conditioning education benefits on participation in unwelcome sexual conduct,” “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity” or “sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.”
Colleges and universities also will be required to hold live hearings with cross-examinations of both parties. Cross-examinations do not have to be include the students personally but can be complete by an “adviser.” Either party can request the hearing be held virtually in separate rooms.
However, it can be argued that the new regulations dehumanize survivors and discourage them from reporting sexual assault and harassment.
American University’s Response
American University hosted a panel to provide the AU community with a response regarding the regulations to the new changes to Title IX.
The student panelist mentioned that among student responses, there was a lot of frustration, confusion, and fear. She questioned if these new regulations will discourage students from coming forward to report sexual assault or harassment. She also mentioned that these new regulations could add more trauma to the situation of coming forward. Further, the issue regarding cross-examination clause is the lack of comfort in not having to see or speak to the person that they are filing a complaint against.
Some services and policies that AU has in place now, according to the HPAC and OASIS leader Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry wants to emphasize that their services will remain steadfast. The education feature surrounding health promotion and advocacy services will continue. The education aspects will not change.
Looking at the Title IX program specifically, all the advocates in the offices are well educated and are still here to respond to students that request to file a Title IX complaint.
Services that support victims and survivors at HPAC and OASIS will also still continue to function normally. They have two full time victim advocates that will continue to support the student population through the new changes in the Title IX process. While we are still off-campus, students can still access these advocates and education measures virtually.
Interim Title IX Program Officer Stephen Vaughan spoke on what AU knows about the new regulations. He mentions that this new regulation is 2,000 pages long, so they are still working on understanding the new framework. It is especially important to highlight the requirement of receipt of federal funds that AU receives in exchange with complying with Title IX regulations. AU receives federal funds; therefore, they must comply with the legal obligations of Title IX.
The Department of Education is now providing AU with Title IX regulations on how to enforce Title IX. If AU does not comply, their federal funding will be revoked. These regulations are a way to, essentially, deliver the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Education’s enforcement of Title IX.
Additionally, the parameters of Title IX have narrowed to only applying to persons in the United States. This means, if the allegation does not occur in the US, then it is not a violation of Title IX. This includes study abroad programs, student exchanges, and international AU travel. If there is a complaint on one of these programs, Title IX cannot be used to enforce justice. However, AU is free to investigate allegations outside of the new Title IX definition through the Code of Conduct.
Additionally, these regulations are very prescriptive in that they define how complaints are received, how they move forward or if they do not, how the investigating is carried out, etc.
The panelists also wanted to emphasize that they are receiving feedback from AU’s community regarding these new regulations. They are looking for feedback on their current Code of Conduct to include these new regulations and they will release a comprehensive policy by mid-August.
Director of Student Conduct Katie Porras emphasized that if students want to connect with the Title IX office, they are encouraged to do so. They want to connect with students and faculty as transparently as possible. They want this process to be as clear and empowering as possible, but it will take time.
When answering questions, the panel was a bit hesitant. They do not have all the answers yet, but they are working to understand this new framework and to provide guidance to the AU community.
What Does All of This Mean?
Since AU received federal funding that is reliant on their compliance with Title IX policy and regulation, they have to incorporate these new regulations. However, AU has their own Code of Conduct that can also dictate how to deal with sexual assault and harassment cases. There is a fine line that separates AU and the federal governments regulations, but I am hopeful that AU will incorporate these new policies with health advocacy and survivor support in mind. If not, the student body has already taken matters into their own hands (per usual), see the petition that calls on the AU administration to uphold our civil rights.
Unfortunately, stripping victim and institutional protection within Title IX guidelines is a step in the wrong direction for the civil rights movement- and the movement’s response isn’t a positive one. We are entitled to an education free of prejudice and harrassment and we are empowered to ensure we receive it.
Photos: Her Campus Media Library