What the Student Title IX Advisory Committee means for Sewanee Students

By Kaitlyn Alford
Staff Writer

The Student Government Association (SGA) and Title IX Coordinator Sylvia Gray have begun work on a Student Title IX Advisory Committee (STAC) that they hope will facilitate communication between the administration and students.

As president of SGA, Mac Bouldin (C’19) felt it was time to take some direct action toward involving students more directly in Title IX conversations on campus. Students campaigned for more involvement in Title IX issues of sexual misconduct last semester during the Charlie Rose controversy.

“As I envision it, the primary purpose of this committee will be to be informative. We want to facilitate communication between the student body and the Title IX office and administration,” Bouldin explained.

“Once things get up and running, we would also like to allow it do to its own thing, not just to be a go-between, but an organization to do its own programming and policy making,” he added.

When asked how the STAC will fit in with existing movements on campus, Bouldin stated that he hopes to structure the committee’s efforts around existing programs and efforts, including those through Greek life and orientation training. Though the charter has yet to be solidified, Bouldin says that he and Gray will continue to work closely to finish it.

At this point in time, finalized drafts of the committee charter have been submitted to relevant parties, including Gray and members of the administration. Bouldin hopes to have the committee up and running at the beginning of next semester, but how the committee will be implemented has not been publicly defined.

Bouldin said that members of the STAC will not be mandatory reporters, who are required to report any information on sexual misconduct they receive. As the committee has not been officially established, the extent of their involvement in providing Title IX assistance remains unclear.

Proposed members of the STAC include members of the Bairnwick Women’s Center as well as leaders of the Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority Councils.

Student advisement on Title IX matters may soon be even more desperately needed. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed major changes to the guidelines regulating schools’ implementation of Title IX protections. This comes after her 2017 revocation of protections instituted by the Obama administration.

DeVos’s proposed changes, heavily protested by advocacy groups, will raise the burden of proof for university hearings. At this point in time, universities rely on a “preponderance of evidence,” the evidentiary standard utilized in civil courts. A preponderance of evidence simply requires that the evidence indicate that it is more likely than not that the event occurred.

The new changes propose modifying the standard to “clear and convincing evidence.” A preponderance of evidence can be thought of as “over 50 percent likely.” The clear and convincing standard raises that likelihood to about 75 percent.

Her new policy would also allow cross-examination of witnesses in the style of criminal court proceedings, which advocates argue could be used to intimidate survivors and their witnesses.

Universities are under no obligation to publicize findings of their Title IX cases. The public lacks data on how many cases the University handles each year or what decisions are made regarding the cases.

Many cases are dropped during the investigation period, either by the accuser or the University, due to “lack of evidence.” Hard evidence can be difficult to find in these cases, especially if survivors do not immediately make a report and obtain physical evidence of assault.

As no changes have been officially approved or submitted to Congress for approval, Gray was not able to offer any comment on the potential for changes to University proceedings or policies. If the STAC is up and running by next semester, they could offer guidance as the University moves forward in its pursuit of a welcoming and stable campus.

At the moment, details on the exact implementation of the committee are still up in the air, and it remains to be seen what long-term effect this attempt at student involvement in Title IX will yield.