Regent And The #MeToo Graffiti

 

 

(Photo Credit: Jonah Crandall 1/22/19)

Current Controversy

 

Recently, the Regent University sign was vandalized with “#MeToo,” and an investigation into who spray-painted it is ongoing. There have been numerous posts by students and alumni discussing the significance of the hashtag, as well as the movement. Since a former student made a controversial post in the Friend Group Group (a non-Regent affiliated FaceBook page for students and alumni) last year and Regent’s YAL chapter created a free speech ball event, there has been ongoing discussion about Regent University’s role in covering up various investigations relating to discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault on campus. With all this circulating, you may have heard about Title IX and what it means for Regent University and the students who currently attend.

 

If you don’t know yet, Title IX is, in short, “A federal law that bars recipients [educational institutions] of federal funds from engaging in sex discrimination” (Know your IX, 2019). Essentially, Title IX currently details an educational institution's responsibility to prevent discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault as well as providing guidelines for how to deal with a problem should it occur. As it stands now, any institution which receives federal funds, including federal student loans, must comply with these regulations.

 

There has been some dispute as to whether the current language of the regulation creates a just system that is neither biased towards the accuser or the accused. Because of this, the Department of Education, under the direction of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has submitted a proposal to substantially change the language of the regulation. Since I’ve seen some criticism of students advocating for administrative accountability at Regent, to the tone of, “If you’re upset about it, what are you actually doing to help,” I would like to explain how you can currently take action. Let it never be said that we are a “Thoughts and Prayers” community. Regardless of whether you are a woman or not, a current student or not, affected directly by this issue or not, statistically speaking, this issue will affect you or someone you know and care about, so please take a moment to know what’s going on and take action.

 

So What’s Going On?

There are several changes proposed to the regulation’s current language which would substantially change its effect. Below are some, but by far not all, of the most significant changes:

 

  1. Changing the Definition of Sexual Harassment: The proposed change would only require schools to investigate harassment if the behavior is, “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.” Instead of a student being able to report unacceptable conduct to the university immediately, the rules changes completely denies a student any recourse. Instead, a student would be required to endure repeated or escalating abuse before they would even qualify for institutional intervention.

  2. Schools Can Increase Barrier to Incident Reporting: The changes only hold schools accountable for not taking action when administrative leadership has direct knowledge that an incident has occurred. Because of this, schools are incentivized to create reporting processes which are “Burdensome, complex, or traumatic — deterring students from coming forward, and limiting the cases which their leaders have notice of discrimination” (Know Your IX, 2019). This has happened previously with several universities and is observable in the reporting requirement at Regent University. Essentially, this change will incentivize victim intimidation.

  3. Higher Evidence Standard: Now you may think a higher standard of evidence could be a good thing, however, this change is problematic. Currently, most student conduct cases require a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence standards are as follows, ‘There are levels of standard of proof that are generally recognized in legal proceedings. The preponderance of evidence standard, used in civil cases, is defined as ‘the proof need only show that the facts are more likely to be than not so.’ The clear and convincing standard is defined as ‘that proof which results in reasonable certainty of the truth.’” (Loschiavo & Waller, 2018). Instead of ensuring a consistent standard of evidence, by maintaining the preponderance standard, the proposed language would heighten the standard of proof, for this type of case only. While the preponderance standard values the evidence of both parties equally, the clear and convincing standard weighs the evidence of the accused higher than that of the accuser. Essentially, the accuser’s education is valued less highly than the accused.

  4. Allows Mediation Instead of Investigation: Instead of requiring that a school investigates all cases, they would now be allowed to substitute mediation. This mediation is not regulated in any way and opens the door for potential abuse and intimidation towards all parties involved.

  5. Increase the Ease of Exemption without the Accountability: Under the new language, in order to obtain a religious exemption, schools are, “Not required to –seek assurance of its religious exemption by submitting a written request for such an assurance to the Assistant Secretary.” This means that a religious institution would not be required to have any written record of whether or not they are exempt from Title IX regulations. Base on this change, students may not know whether their school is required to investigate at all. Current investigations at religious institutions, like Regent, could also stop if this language goes into effect since the school could simply claim an exemption at any time.

 

I know that was a lot, but this is only some of the many problems which could affect students if these changes go into effect. I talked to some Regent students who have been following this issue and many expressed concern. Regent Student Michaela Bonner noted that “They're saying in the full text of this new bill that a case doesn't count unless the act itself prevents someone from getting access to school. It's a hyper-literalist interpretation of Title IX that doesn't allow for something like a victim's depression to indirectly count as a way the rapist affected their schooling;” she’s also concerned about accountability to current and prospective students regarding religious exemptions.

 

While being educated is important, taking action is even more crucial. If you find this concerning, the Department of Education has opened this proposal up for public comment until January 30th, 2019. Please follow the link below to share your thoughts on the proposed changes with the Department of Education then pass the link along to your parents, friends, and colleagues. While many may disagree on how best to alter the language, I think we can all agree that it is necessary to ensure that educational institutions are just, fair, and accountable for all students. This proposal would directly oppose these goals, so please go express your concern.

 

Public Comment Link: https://www.handsoffix.org/submit-a-comment/?fbclid=IwAR2aaMexaCkL6OrXg7JXkQCVS4UiZ1kJY376ttBLjlCuDaW-j2QrOkiUJnM

 

Title IX Proposal: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/title-ix-nprm.pdf

 

Resources:

https://www.theasca.org/files/The%20Preponderance%20of%20Evidence%20Standard.pdf

https://actionnetwork.org/user_files/user_files/000/028/107/original/Two_pager_on_proposed_rule.pdf