We, the members of the Illinois Student Government Executive at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are writing in response to the US Federal Government Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX guidelines. As advocates for the student body, we are gravely concerned with the impact such proposed new guidelines will have on the students we represent.
The proposed changes will make schools less safe. The reporting process can be very stressful for survivors of sexual violence and can take an emotional toll on these individuals. These proposed changes will make it harder for survivors to receive the assistance and justice they deserve. The primary purpose of sexual misconduct legislation such as Title IX is to protect students. While it is commendable that “the total monetary cost savings of these regulations over ten years would be in the range of $286.4 million to $367.7 million,” it seems that with these new guidelines the Department of Education is looking more towards ways to save money rather than to help students. These changes will also allow institutions across the country to turn a blind eye towards pervasive sexual violence on college campuses, freeing them of any accountability while restricting the rights of students, especially survivors.
In particular, the below-proposed guidelines are the cause of our greatest concern:
- Section 106.44(A), which proposes a definition of sexual harassment to mean “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” The words “severe” “pervasive” and “objectively offensive” are undefined, subjective terms which are easily susceptible to exploitation as loopholes.
- Section 106.44(B) which limits response to a formal complaint to “allegations of conduct within its education program or activity.” This severely limits the ability of survivors to receive support for reporting instances of sexual misconduct that occur outside of these grounds, such as off-campus or online.
- Section 106.45(b)(4)(i) which permits schools to raise the evidence standard to “clear and convincing” rather than “preponderance of evidence.” The clear and convincing evidence standard sets a higher threshold than the preponderance of evidence standard, which will make it more difficult for survivors to receive justice.
- Section 106.45(B)(3) which permits live cross-examination at a hearing, conducted by the party’s advisor of choice. Although it is important to provide opportunities to challenge the credibility of a complainant, live cross-examination may unnecessarily re-traumatize a survivor. Additionally, the “advisor of choice” is a very broad category that can encompass a wide range of eligible people. Finding a suitable advocate, such as an attorney is an expensive undertaking, and those who cannot afford to do so will be at a disadvantage.
The most marginalized members of our campuses are LGBTQ individuals, women of color, and students with disabilities, who experience much higher rates of sexual violence than the one in five women statistic that is frequently reported which is in and of itself alarming. Should the proposed guidelines be enacted, these members of our community will be disproportionately harmed. In an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, these proposed Title IX guidelines will undo much of the hard work that has gone into supporting survivors of sexual assault.
Walter Lindwall, Student Body President
Alice Zheng, Student Body Vice President