By Emma Howell
After conferencing with student leaders and faculty throughout the summer, the Title IX office has announced several updates to the Sex Discrimination Policy for the upcoming 2019-20 school term.
One of the most significant changes is the updated policy regarding hearing procedures in sexual misconduct cases handled by the University. Before, the party who reported the incident would not be able to hear the testimony of the respondent and vice versa.
Due to these changes, however, both parties will now be given the opportunity to listen to each other and submit questions regarding the testimony to the hearing panel. The involved parties will still never have contact with each other during the hearing.
“They don’t have to interact with them in any way,” Dr. Sylvia Gray, the University’s Title IX coordinator, said. “Those sorts of things make it is less of an anxious experience, when you’re already in a hearing for something so sensitively significant.”
This policy was put into place in part as a response to laws proposed by the U.S. Department of Education that would mandate similar rules, while taking into account criticisms of that legislation.
“We’ve seen the proposed regulations that are coming down the pipeline for Title IX from the Office for Civil Rights,” Gray said. “Which a lot of schools, victims advocates, folks who have done this work for some time, and attorneys—some of whom are skilled in the field of Title IX and the resolution processes related to it—have different opinions on.”
Many of these complaints center on the Department of Education considering adding elements of cross-examination to sexual misconduct hearings, which some say is strenuous for a school setting.
“[Opponents of the proposed legislation] don’t want to liken this issue to a court of law, because schools are not courts of law,” Gray said. “We don’t have a judge and this whole court proceeding where [reporters] need to face their accusers in that particular way.”
The office believes that the hearing policies that they’ve put into action will make the process equitable for both the reporter and respondent.
Now with the process we’re looking at what is fundamentally fair,” Gray said, “and we think that’s fundamentally fair for both parties.”
Other alterations aim to clarify policies already put into practice. These changes include making sure that rules in both the Sex Discrimination Policy and the EQB Guide, like the Amnesty Policy, are aligned, and that the policy and the Title IX website are easy to navigate.
“Under the sex discrimination policy, some of the appeal language was not exactly the same as some of the appeal language and the EQB, but the processes were still the same,” Gray said. “So [we wanted] to get those things clear.”
Language regarding who the policy applies to has been changed as well, to make it clear that the Sex Discrimination Policy applies to both undergraduate and graduate students.
“When we say students, we’re meaning all of our students and not just undergraduate students,” Gray said.
Some revisions, like the document’s name changing from Sexual Misconduct to Sex Discrimination Policy, are symbolic of the Title IX office’s intent going forward.
“We changed the name… because we wanted to make sure that we’re sending the message that sexual misconduct is a form of sex discrimination,” Gray said.
In addition to the regulatory changes, the office has also been working throughout the last year to ensure that university staff and faculty receive basic Title IX training. Currently, around 700 of 800 university employees have been trained.
“The faculty and staff learn about what their role is, their duty is as a mentor, and what that means how they share that information to students [and] to colleagues,” Gray said.
Nevertheless, the office is still working to meet the needs of the student body.
“Oftentimes, you update your policy to make sure it’s fit for the next year, or that accommodates whatever students are coming in, or employees or whatever the case may be,” Gray said, “and sometimes a change is prompted because an issue was wrong…We need to make some procedures or modify our policy to accommodate that issue in the future.”