Led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education is trying to weaken protections against sexual assault and harassment (also known as Title IX protections). These changes would represent a huge step backwards in ending the crisis of sexual harassment in higher ed. They would make it much harder for survivors to come forward, are a direct attack on equality in education, and would disproportionately harm women of color and LGBTQ students, who are at the highest risk of sexual violence. The proposed changes include:
- Narrowing the definition of sexual harassment so institutions would take action on fewer cases;
- Making it more difficult to find perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment guilty by allowing schools to adopt higher standards of proof than currently in place;
- Subjecting survivors to painful and traumatic hearings that will likely decrease the (already low) reporting rate.
Want to make your voice heard? The proposed regulations have not gone into effect yet, and you have until tonight January 30, 2019 at 11:59PM EST to submit a comment expressing your concerns with the proposed regulations.
Here’s how to submit a comment:
- Read the Proposed Regulation, or read a summary of the proposed changes here to identify your areas of concern. UAW has submitted a comment to voice our collective opposition to these changes, read it here.
- Draft your comment. Write a brief introduction of yourself, and if you have experience with the Title IX complaint process and you’re comfortable sharing your story, consider telling your powerful firsthand account.
- Facts and statistics are important to include. Here are two resources to find data you can cite: End Rape on Campus and the National Women’s Law Center.
- Organize your comment into sections on each issue you find most concerning. Try to include a few specific objective statements, statistics or facts. See the example comment below.
- To submit your finished comment, go to the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/29/2018-25314/nondiscrimination-on-the-basis-of-sex-in-education-programs-or-activities-receiving-federal. Click the green button at the top that says “Submit a Formal Comment.” You can copy and paste your text into the comment box, or attach it as a file attachment if it’s longer than 5,000 characters.
To Whom It May Concern,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these new regulations to Title IX that would change how schools are required to handle incidents of sexual harassment and violence. I am a graduate student at Columbia University concerned that the proposed changes will make it much harder for survivors to come forward, represent a direct attack on equality in education and would disproportionately harm women of color and LGBTQ students, who are at the highest risk of sexual violence.
Many studies have found widespread sexual harassment and discrimination in academia, and this is a major contributor to the persistent loss of women and people of color, especially in STEM fields. Some alarming facts illustrate how serious the problem of sexual harassment and assault in higher education is: Half of women in science have experienced harassment or assault, according to a July 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Academia remains second to only the military in the rates of sexual harassment.
Title IX is critically important legislation that must be strengthened, rather than weakened, so that those who experience sexual harassment and sexual violence do not fear coming forward, and find recourse that enables them to stay in their education and career paths. My concerns with the proposed regulations are as follows:
- By narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, institutions will only be required to take action on the most extreme cases. In contradiction to the purpose and intent of Title IX, the proposed regulations restrict a recipient’s duty to respond based upon “actual knowledge,” narrows the very definition of “sexual harassment,” and then only requires the recipient to show more than “deliberate indifference” to actually address the allegations. These proposed regulations completely eviscerate any possibility for a victim to have effective relief at the outset. (Proposed Section 106.44)
- Allowing schools to adopt higher standards of proof lowers the likelihood that an accusation could be sustained. The “preponderance of the evidence” is the correct standard in Title IX cases, and a “clear and convincing” evidence standard values potentially keeping someone on campus who may have engaged in sexual harassment, sexual violence, or other sexual misconduct, over protecting someone who may be a victim of the same. (Proposed section 106.45(b)(4)(i))
- Allowing people accused of harassment to cross-examine their accuser can be hugely re-traumatizing for victims of harassment and assault. The requirements for a live hearing and subjecting complainants to potential cross-examination by attorneys is unnecessary to gather relevant evidence and possibly detrimental to effectuating the purpose of Title IX, especially for victims who might choose not to report for fear being subjected to an onslaught of highly invasive questions by an experienced attorney. (Proposed section 106.45(b)(3)(vii))
I urge you to reconsider these proposed changes and protect Title IX as a strong tool in the fight against sexual harassment, sexual violence, or any gender-based discrimination that may deny a person access to educational benefits and opportunities.
I appreciate your attention to my concerns.