Here’s How the DeVos Title IX Change Will Affect UWF

Students across the country have battled for fair and just interpretations of Title IX the past few years, but some changes are coming to many universities in light of alterations initiated by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

In 2011, an Obama-era memo outlined sexual assault accusation processes to help schools understand how they should handle these complaints. It’s now been rescinded and replaced with an interim letter featuring some important changes.

A topic of contention in the new letter from the Trump administration is the option for universities to use the clear and convincing standard versus the preponderance standard mandated by the 2011 memo when handling sexual assault cases. But what do those standards mean for college students?

Karen Rentz is the Title IX Coordinator for UWF and explained the difference between the preponderance and clear and convincing standards. Preponderance is often referred to as the “more likely than not” standard. In this scenario, a small amount of evidence can tip the decision in one direction or the other. The goal of this standard being applied to Title IX cases is so perpetrators aren’t let off simply because of a lack of hard evidence. Cases might be decided based on credibility of the parties involved.

Karen Rentz presents Title IX changes to Student Government Senate Nov. 3.

Clear and convincing is a higher standard requiring hard evidence like a third party witness or a recording.  

You might be asking yourself, how will this change affect students at UWF? Turns out, it won’t do anything at all for now.

According to the Florida Board of Governor’s rules followed by all Florida Public Institutions, universities are required to use at least the preponderance standard. At the moment, all schools in Florida have been using preponderance and won’t need to change it under the interim measures that allow schools to choose either one. Rentz says the State University System stands together on supporting preponderance, therefore strengthening the standard across the state.

Supporters of the change say it was too easy for supposed attackers to be wrongfully accused and convicted under preponderance. Opponents say a higher standard will give perpetrators an advantage, resulting in fewer women receiving the justice they deserve and possibly being discouraged to come forward.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 20 percent of college women who experience sexual violence decide to report to law enforcement. The switch to clear and convincing could lower that number.

Though the UWF Title IX office is in the clear for now on the preponderance issue, students involved with a case of sexual violence will now have the ability to cross examine each other, a shift away from the 2011 Dear Colleague letter.

However, everything in the letter is still subject to change. The current administration says the 2011 memo was issued without guidance or comment from the public. This interim letter serves as a placeholder for what to do in reference to Title IX until a permanent interpretation is released. This date could be anywhere from six months to a year away, maybe even longer.

Until then, the UWF Title IX office will follow the Office of Civil Rights, who enforces Title IX. Ultimately, Rentz says UWF’s goal is to do the right thing.

“UWF wants to do the right thing,” Rentz said. “We’re going to do the right thing for students. We’re going to make sure students feel that they have a safe environment.”