As new faces emerge within the Title IX areas of campus and the the topic of sexual harassment in colleges and universities moves to the national media spotlight, these modifications may not always seem translucent. On Sept. 22, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the removal of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, enacted by the Obama administration, which encouraged institutions of higher education to uphold parallel standards of violations to Title IX.
The Obama-era letter was intended to specifically address the appeal system and the preponderance of evidence rule. This allowed both parties in a case the power of appeal and drove institutions to inherit the preponderance of evidence rule, sometimes called the “50 percent plus a feather” standard, which allowed the side holdings more than 50 percent to win the ruling. At the time of the letter’s enactment, these two mandates were already being executed at Hope.
The letter defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Hope includes sexual harassment along with sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking as discrimination based on sex and therefore violations of Title IX.
Despite the removal of the letter, Sara Dorer, Hope’s Title IX coordinator, explained in an interview last Friday that none of these national developments have affected the way in which Hope deals with incidents of sexual harassment. She went on to explain that the withdrawal from the letter holds merit because the letter did not undergo the specific rule- making process when enacted and therefore stretched the power it held. However, Dorer also wanted to ensure students that although the rhetoric surrounding the Department of Education’s ruling may imply a lack of rights for victims, Hope will continue the process in place and further their efforts to improve victim protection.
The future of this withdrawal is still open-ended and Dorer commented that she and the rest of her team were “waiting and watching” as they continue to strive to serve the student community.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will be posting a public comment which allows for citizens to voice their opinions on the withdrawal in the next few weeks. The official date is unknown but Dorer said she would encourage campus groups to spread the news when the site opens, so that students may get involved as well.
Although a campus-wide email was recently sent out, Dorer wanted to emphasize the resources that Hope has to offer in the Title IX office. As for new faces, Hope has welcomed Christian Gibson and Jill Whitcomb.
Gibson replaced Sara Bazydlo in the role of Confidential Victim Advocate. Whitcomb marks the beginning of a new position; the Equal Opportunity and Title IX Investigator. The new position is intended to replace the Equity Resolution Panel, a team of faculty members, who alongside a local lawyer would complete the investigative actions.
Gibson, Campus Ministries, CAPS and the Health Center are the only confidential advocates on campus. Every other faculty and residential life staff member is a mandated reporter. This means that they are required to report the Title IX violations brought to them.
In addition, student groups such as Students Teaching and Empowering Peers group, (STEP) are designed to be a link for students to support and educate on the issues of sexual assault on campus.