Giovanna Z. Rinaldo
Editor in Chief
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intention to roll back Title IX guidelines for addressing sexual assault on college campuses, on Sept. 7, during an address at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.
The rollback, she said, would address concerns about a lack of due process for alleged perpetrators of sexual assault. The initially vague plan was taken a step further last Friday, when DeVos put interim guidelines in place via a Q&A format.
“It’s very much a wait-and-see game,” said Megan Jackson, University of La Verne Title IX manager. “We just have no understanding as to what is going to be changed, what those changes could look like.”
Title IX applies to institutions that receive federal funds and works to prevent students from being discriminated against on the basis of sex – from athletic participation to sexual assault.
The recently revoked instructions were a combination of the 1972 Title IX law and the Obama-era 2011 ‘dear colleague’ letter, which reinforced schools’ obligation to take reports of sexual assault more seriously and to readily notify the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights of sexual misconduct.
According to the Q&A statement, DeVos revoked the recommendation for schools to come to a decision when adjudicating sexual assault within 60 days and allows more freedom for them to arrive at informal resolutions.
To Sofie Karasek, director of education and co-founder of activist group End Rape on Campus, the absence of the 60-day time frame to abide by is concerning.
“What that means is that it will be much easier for schools and for perpetrators to drag out cases as long as possible until either the perpetrator graduates and goes off to their normal life, or the survivor drops out of school,” she said. “They’ve made it a lot easier to sweep it under the rug in a way that benefits perpetrators.”
Karasek added that DeVos is giving a default advantage to perpetrators and tipping the scales in their favor.
“One of the many things that has been changed now is that survivors don’t have the opportunity to appeal their cases,” she said. “Or at least schools will have the opportunity to make that determination that survivors don’t have that opportunity.”
While federal law requires schools to issue Clery Act protocols and adhere to Title IX policies, California state laws are stricter.
They include detailed and survivor-centered policies, outreach programs, affirmative consent standard, disciplinary proceedings, survivor confidentiality, yearly reports on hate violence and other offenses and handling of delayed reporting of sexual offenses.
Since state sexual assault laws supersedes federal law, California residents can retain more protection.
The University of La Verne has had a permanent Title IX position for about three years, and Jackson – who has a passion for Title IX, experience in law enforcement and a degree in public administration – was hired in the beginning of 2017.
“Once we saw a focus on Title IX nationally, we wanted to make sure that we were consistent and that we were putting students first, so we created a full-time Title IX position in Human Resources so that faculty and students had an employee who understood and understands Title IX,” President Devorah Lieberman said.
ULV also created a general council for legal issues regarding Title IX, the president added.
“However we approach any issue, my response is always: how is this going to impact our students? And how can we make sure that our students are safe and that our students have voice?” Lieberman said.
Despite strong protections under California law, some are still worried about how the changes via the U.S. Secretary of Education may affect people nationwide.
“When I heard about it, it just made me feel as if – who are we trying to protect here?” said Kayla Twombly, senior kinesiology major and president of feminist club on campus I Am That Girl.
“What’s the purpose, what’s the cause of Title IX? Is it supposed to protect the people that are being accused?” she said.
Twombly added that DeVos’ position created a fire in her, and that she does not understand how someone who is supposed to protect a large population of students, wants to shift focus to a small fraction of false accusation situations.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent, approximately the same as other crimes.
“It sends out a message that you need to keep your mouth shut, your voice is not loud enough,” Twombly said. “You can’t pass something like that and not have a message to women that they’re not protected. What that is telling people is to only open their mouth if they have evidence, which I think is wrong.”
Karasek said she also believes DeVos’ position gets a point across.
“I think the stronger message that she’s sending is to perpetrators, which is that you can get away with whatever you want, we don’t care,” Karasek said. “She’s also sending a message to schools that we’re not really concerned, you can tweak cases under the rug and you can go back to the way things were before and we’re not going to be looking over your shoulder.”
In a Sept. 2015 study, the Association of American Universities estimated that one in five women, or 20 percent, experience sexual assault in college.
Despite the frequency of the crime, it continues to be among the most underreported.
About two out of three are not taken to the police, and while women outside of college report in 32 percent of the cases, those attending college report only 20 percent of the time, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that between 2006 and 2010 nearly 3.4 million violent crimes were underreported per year, despite the fact that victims knew the offenders in about 80 percent of sexual misconduct cases.
The role of Title IX as it relates to sexual assault is “recognizing that sexual assault is a form of sex discrimination and can interfere with a person’s equal access to educational programs and activities,” according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
“Allegations of a ‘broken system,’ and perpetuating the myth that false reporting is prevalent” can discourage reporting even more, the Resource Center reports.
DeVos’ premise that the current guidelines to deal with sexual misconduct on college campuses create a system of imbalance in due process contrast with the fact that only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators of the crime end up in prison, according to RAINN.
“With Title IX we saw greater spotlight on education, prevention programs, bystander intervention programs, making sure that students are readily aware of policy and resources,” Jackson said.
“Here at the University of La Verne we have excellent working partnerships with Project Sister, House of Ruth, and just making sure that (students) have full knowledge that our on-campus counseling program is available.”
According to ULV’s 2016 Clery Act Report, at the University’s main campus there have been no accounts of forcible sex offense in 2013, one in 2014 and two in 2015, and three incidents of dating violence in 2014 and one in 2015, as well as three of domestic violence in 2015.
The report also showed that in the student housing facilities, there has been two forcible sex offenses in 2013, one in 2014 and two in 2015, while there were also two instances of dating violence in 2013, three in 2014 and one in 2015.
There has also been one instance of domestic violence in 2015.
With responses to DeVos’ intended changes coming from across the political spectrum, not everyone believes Title IX as applied to sexual misconduct is a priority.
“You have to look back and see if it is being effective where it is instituted, then keep going with it, but from what I’m hearing I don’t think it’s being effective and that’s why it’s being discussed,” junior communications major and College Republicans president Marisa Saldaña said.
Saldaña also said she believes there are more urgent feminist causes, especially outside of the United States, that should be prioritized.
“As a woman, and I can only speak from my own experiences, I haven’t experienced anything that would make me completely concerned about Title IX,” she said.
She added that the University does a lot to address sexual misconduct on campus, such as events like Take Back the Night, and said she wishes more people took self-defense classes.
Between Sept. 18 and 21, the University held several events for Sexual Assault Awareness week.
They included a screening of the film “The Hunting Ground,” a lecture and discussion on being an up-stander, taking a pledge to commit to being an ally and participating in the Clothesline Project, which involved decorating and hanging t-shirts in honor of sexual assault and/or rape survivors.
“We do sexual assault awareness month in April, but for college campuses, this is the time to do it,” Jackson said. “You have many students that are new to campus, new to the experience, so this is a great time to really educate them on our resources, opportunities and how to remain safe as they’re getting acclimated to the ‘on your own’ environment.”
According to RAINN, more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur between August and November, and students are at an increased risk at the beginning of their freshman and sophomore years.
As clearer guidelines erupt from DeVos’ decision to implement changes in the treatment of Title IX, the University intends to send mass communication updating the student body, faculty and staff.
“We’re very adamant in staying on top and knowledgeable about changes and that is the nature of my role,” Jackson said. “Making sure that not only I am aware, but that I’m making students aware.”
Twombly said she believes one of the biggest issues with sexual assault and rape is that it is not talked about enough.
“I feel like the student body needs to know how to see these situations from a more open lens. You can’t just see it from her side or his side, or vice-versa,” she said.
“There is a stigma around it and a feeling that it’s uncomfortable, so people don’t want to learn more about it.”
Despite the dissatisfaction with the possible changes to Title IX guidelines, Twombly is optimistic in how the University will support its community.
“I think La Verne is very unique in that we go against the grain, we listen to our students a little bit more,” she said. “So I think La Verne will stand behind not only the women, but all the people that could be potentially affected and harmed by this new change.”
Jackson also sees in the situation an opportunity to keep the conversation about sexual misconduct on campus alive.
“We’re talking about things more and more, and I think what’s great about these public opportunities such as with our Secretary of Education, it brings the conversation back to the forefront,” Jackson said.
“We’re discussing the ideals and opportunities and what that means for both men and women who are complainants and respondents and having to encounter these processes,” she said.
Sexual assault and rape victims on campus can count on the resources of the Counseling and Psychological Services, Student Health Center, Student Affairs, Student Life, Campus Safety, City of La Verne Police Department and Human Resources, where Jackson’s office is located.
“My message to men and women is be safe,” Lieberman said. “If there is ever a question about is your action appropriate or inappropriate, or are you interacting with someone that you think their actions are inappropriate, then be safe and make sure that you are communicating with the appropriate people.”