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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Don’t change the process

We have a responsibility to protect survivors

Title IX, a federal law which protects students from sex-based discrimination in educational institutions which receive federal funding, could undergo significant changes if revisions proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are approved.

DeVos proposed revisions to Title IX in November 2018 which she said were intended to protect survivors of sexual harassment and assault as well as the rights of accused students. During the ensuing 60-day period for public feedback on the proposed revisions, which closed on Jan. 30, the department received over 100,000 comments.

The proposed changes have received criticism from colleges and universities, as well as politicians, including Gov. Tom Wolf.

University Student Senate (USS) became one of 76 colleges who signed a letter opposing the proposed changes started by the Associated Students of Stanford University.

Sexual misconduct policies, whether federal or collegiate, must do the difficult work of balancing the well-being of survivors with the rights of the accused.

Any revisions to Title IX which purport better enforcing due process for accused students are not inherently a blow to the law protecting students, but these revisions cannot institute policies which would retraumatize victims of sexual assault.

DeVos’ revisions, as they currently stand, do not pass this test.

The proposed changes fall into two categories: new rules which schools would be required to enforce and rollbacks of current regulations which schools would have the individual discretion to enforce.

One of the new rules would be a live-hearing mandate, which would give students accused of sexual assault the right to question their accusers through a third-party within a university setting.

Following an allegation of sexual assault, university and criminal investigations and proceedings are usually kept separate. Schools are free to sanction students whom they find guilty of sexual assault or harassment as they see fit, as is the outside criminal justice system, if a victim chooses to pursue criminal charges.

St. Joe’s currently gives victims four options; to participate in the internal investigation process or the criminal process alone, to participate in both processes, or to report and not participate in either process.

The live-hearing mandate would burden schools with constructing a makeshift legal proceeding without the resources or personnel to do so. Allowing questioning of survivors during a hearing in a university setting could deter other survivors from coming forward. The St. Joe’s Sexual Misconduct Policy forbids both complainants and respondents’ advisors from directly questioning other participants during the investigation and disciplinary process.

DeVos’ Title IX changes would also impact when, as well as how, universities are required to respond to a complaint of sexual assault or harassment. Under these new regulations, universities would not be required to investigate off-campus incidents or incidents that occur during study abroad programs.

As significant numbers of St. Joe’s students live off-campus and participate in study abroad programs–46 percent and 33 percent respectively, St. Joe’s has a responsibility to ensure the Title IX process is adhered to for each of these student populations, even if Title IX does not require them to do so.

As the campus community takes a closer look at our current sexual misconduct policy in light of the proposed Title IX revisions, St. Joe’s must be proactive in creating educational resources improving upon the ones it currently offers.

While the bathroom stall stickers around campus provided by the Rape Education and Prevention Program (REPP) and the Office of Student Life’s sexual misconduct resource booklet can be useful and accessible directories to resources, they are not guides to the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.

The only version of our Sexual Misconduct Policy available online is overlong and written in complicated language. The campus community would benefit from the creation and circulation of a document highlighting in plain language the most important features of the sexual misconduct reporting and disciplinary process.

First and foremost, the university would need to consult survivors on how to best implement required changes to Title IX procedures, when and if they become law. As these new policies have the greatest potential to impact survivors and deter reporting rates, their input would ensure that any damage caused by new Title IX regulations is minimized.

While the imposition of harmful federal regulations on our campus may be daunting, we need to remember the strength of our community here at St. Joe’s and how our school’s culture calls on us to take care of each other. We have the authority and the obligation to protect the well-being of all students, regardless of current policy.

—The Editorial Board

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