Amajla Tricic,News Editor
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department have proposed sweeping changes to how colleges and universities handle sexual misconduct allegations.
The goal is to narrow the number of complaints by only allowing allegations to be taken if the complaint is filed with an authority figure. Essentially, the draft regulations would allow a school to dismiss a Title IX complaint if it does not meet the new definition of sexual harassment, even if the conduct is found to be true, according to The New York Times.
The changes proposed by the Education Department raise questions at UC’s own campus and how, if at all, they affect the way students report harassment and abuse.
Title IX Coordinator Lisa Green admits that she is not surprised by the changes being considered to the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter.
“That particular DCL changed, in a very meaningful way, how colleges and universities address issues of sex and gender-based misconduct on their campuses,” Green said. “It was a game changer in terms of making it much more clear that the institution is primarily responsible for prevention and response.”
Green said that while the DCL was definitive in addressing those issues, there are still some areas that some institutions struggle with when it comes to proper investigatory procedure. For that reason, it was only a matter of time before proposed changes came to light, even if she did not know what those changes would entail until recently.
“With regard to the new policy put forth by the Department of Education, the job of our Title IX team is first and foremost to ensure that any students [or UC community members in general] who are involved in cases of gender-based or sexual misconduct are cared for and afforded a process that is fair and equitable,” she said. “We also do everything we can to provide a process that is within the boundaries set for us by state and federal regulations. We will continue to do that. “
In regards to whether or not these procedures will change things for UC going forward, Green explained that unless the school is required to comply in a different way then UC’s policies and procedures are already keeping with providing a fair process for everyone. Anyone involved in a case of gender-based discrimination or sexual misconduct has the same access to safety measures, resources, information, support and appeals processes, Green said.
“Unless we learn that we need to change this, we intend to continue with our policy and procedures,” she said. “Remember that we also comply with New York State’s Enough is Enough, which ensures the kind of policy and processes to best serve our students.”
Green admitted she cannot “speak for the motives of the Department of Education,” but she speaks from her own perspective about what her department sees as a priority at Utica College.
“Our goal was, is and always will be to encourage reporting and to try to remove barriers to reporting,” Green said. “There are so many times when myself or other members of our team are asked if we have ‘a lot’ of cases. To that, I say even one is too many, and that we worry more about what we don’t know (what does not get reported).”
Hermina Garic, president of Student Government Association and an intern with the Womyn’s Resource Center, has done extensive research on Title IX. Garic explained that “the manipulation” and changing of these laws will favor those that are accused rather than victims who speak out.
The Department of Education, Garic said, is making changes because the original Dear Colleague letter under the Obama Administration did not outline any procedures after accusations are made. However, she explained, there was in fact a process between an accuser and victim settled in the original documents. At the same time, some schools have their reporting policies that they follow.
“I have a friend who knew a student at Hofstra University that tried to come forward but could not because the school prevents individuals from coming forward after 30 days because of their policy,” she said.
Garic emphasized the importance of becoming familiar with Title IX and having schools follow these procedures.