UC affirms commitment to Title IX guidelines after Betsy DeVos issues new policies

Alice Langford/Staff

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U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued new interim guidelines for Title IX policies on college campuses Friday, rescinding former president Barack Obama’s administration guidelines for how college campuses handle sexual violence cases.

DeVos announced her intent to change the Title IX policy earlier this month, sparking concern from many UC Berkeley community members. On Friday, she repealed documents issued by the Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, including the “Dear Colleague” letter published in 2011 and a “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” published in 2014, which expanded Title IX protections.

The 2011 letter urged college campuses to change Title IX policies to address not only sexual harassment but also sexual violence, including rape. The OCR also published the 2014 document to expand federal guidelines for how college campuses are expected to handle sexual misconduct.

UC President Janet Napolitano issued a statement Friday expressing concern that the changes will likely affect how campuses handle sexual violence cases under Title IX policies.

“I am deeply worried by the Department of Education announcement today that will in effect weaken sexual violence protections … and unravel the progress that so many schools have made in ensuring fair, timely procedures for both survivors and the accused,” Napolitano said in her statement.

The new guidelines stated that campuses may resolve cases through informal measures, such as mediation, if both complainants and respondents agree. The 2011 letter, however, recommends that in cases of sexual assault, the school should conduct a formal investigation.

“In cases involving allegations of sexual assault, mediation is not appropriate even on a voluntary basis,” the 2011 letter states.

The new guidelines also state that schools that voluntarily entered into agreements with the OCR in the past are bound to new OCR guidelines. But UC Title IX coordinator Kathleen Salvaty said in a statement issued Friday that the university’s systemwide policies and procedures on sexual violence and sexual harassment “remain in full effect.” Salvaty added in her statement that the current UC policy is compliant with both federal and state regulations.

“Beyond the legal requirements, the policy reflects our shared commitment to a safe environment, and a fair and consistent process for responding to reports of sexual violence,” Salvaty said in the statement. “Our community members have the right to be free of sexual violence and sexual harassment. It is our job to ensure they not only understand this, but feel comfortable exercising that right and confident in our processes.”

Malini Ramaiyer is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @malinisramaiyer.