As University prepares for new Title IX rules, survivor advocates worry


Daily file photo by Ben Goldberg

Student protesters during the 2016 Take Back the Night annual march. Survivor advocates fear that new Title IX rules will discourage survivors from coming forward.

Daisy Conant, Reporter

It’s been ten days since U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unveiled her proposed revisions of Title IX, a federal civil rights law in the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded schools.

The focal point of these new policies bolsters the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses and limits the liabilities faced by schools to investigate claims. A few of the most consequential revisions to the law include guaranteeing the accused the right to cross-examine their accuser, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment that requires a school’s response, and allowing colleges to use a higher standard of proof in assessing accusations of sexual misconduct.

While proponents of due process and men’s rights have praised DeVos for championing these rules, Barack Obama administration officials and victims’ advocacy groups have denounced the Donald Trump administration for rolling back provisions the previous administration had set to fight sexual violence on college campuses.

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration are sending a clear message to survivors across the country with these disgraceful new rules: our dignity, humanity, and civil rights don’t matter to them,” Jess Davidson, the interim executive director of End Rape on Campus, said in a statement the day the revisions were released.

While the Office of Equity prepares for the changes, campus offices such as the Center for Awareness, Response and Education and student-led organizations such as Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault are doubling down on efforts to ensure protections for Northwestern students who may fall victim to sexual violence.

As Serene Singh, the director of SHAPE, hears more conversations about concerns of sexual violence on campus in the wake of the proposed Title IX revisions, she is urging higher-level administrators to provide more resources to CARE as a way to take part in making campus culture feel safer.

“NU will have adequately addressed these concerns after thinking very critically about the University’s new Title IX changes,” the Weinberg senior said, “offering more support towards CARE and enabling constructive conversations about sexual assault prevention to all spaces on campus as intersectionally as possible.”

When Javier Cuadra stepped foot on Northwestern’s campus for the first time, he knew very little about Title IX. To him, it was simply the legal requirement that collegiate men’s and women’s sports receive equal funding.

After watching his peers come forward with their stories of experiencing assault on Northwestern’s campus for the past three years, the McCormick junior has found himself to be much more aware — not only of Title IX’s role in the way the University handles sexual violence cases, but also of how changes to the law could impact the landscape of sexual misconduct at Northwestern.

“There’s a lot of nuance within Title IX,” said Cuadra. “I’d think students need to be educated on what it is that Betsy DeVos is putting forward.”

Between its passing in 1972 up until around seven years ago, Title IX was best known for ensuring that schools distributed the same amount of funding and resources to their women’s sports teams as they did to men’s teams. Although schools were required to respond to campus sexual assault under Title IX and the 1990 Clery Act, the sanctions were loose. It wasn’t until 2011 — when the Obama administration and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released a “Dear Colleague” letter — that the scope of the law shifted from protecting women’s rights in athletics to protecting women from sexual assault. Afterward, colleges and universities across the country, including Northwestern, began creating Title IX offices.

To critics, the Obama-era guidelines placed an unfair bias against those accused of sexual misconduct, especially with the enforcement of a “preponderance of evidence” standard — requiring it to be more likely than not misconduct occurred — and the forbidding of schools to use mediation to resolve accusations.

In DeVos’ revisions, both of those guidelines are changed. However, as Illinois law mandates that Northwestern use the “preponderance of evidence” standard, it will remain the University’s policy, and administrators have not indicated that they plan on allowing mediation.

As both a member of the Omega Delta Phi fraternity and a residential adviser, Cuadra holds a dichotomous perspective on DeVos’ proposed revisions. While he appreciates the push for due process amongst sexual violence cases on college campuses, he also remains concerned about how doing so could impact protections for students who may experience sexual misconduct or abuse while at Northwestern.

“I fear that a lot of people, a lot of victims will not come forward now because there is that threat that they will be cross examined and they will be invalidated for their experiences,” Cuadra said.

Northwestern has not announced any changes to its procedures, but said in a statement that it is “reviewing the document and preparing to participate in the comment period on these critically important issues.” However, Northwestern did update it’s sexual misconduct policy over the summer to give University officials more time to investigate reports of sexual violence and lessen the burdens of the appeals process.

Both policy changes are in line with the revisions set by DeVos and an interim Q&A she released last fall, though the University has not affirmed that the update was directly influenced by federal mandates.

With about 50 days for the public to comment on DeVos’s provisions, David Fishman, the director of MARS and a former Daily staffer, echoed Singh by saying he hopes administrators will focus as much of their energy in enabling survivor-centric advocacy groups with resources as they do on trying to create appropriate and fair Title IX policies.

“No matter how much we improve the Title IX process, the reality is that it’s not necessarily the right solution for everyone who’s experienced sexual violence,” the Weinberg senior said. “And in fact the majority of people, for the most part, will choose not to go through that process for a number of reasons. And I think that providing equally viable options for survivors is a really important thing that our campus can do better.”

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