University will uphold protection, justice for sexual violence survivors, others

Isabelle Doerschlag/Staff

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On Sept. 22, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced changes in how the federal government will be enforcing Title IX. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education has withdrawn the “Dear Colleague” letter issued in 2011 by its Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, as well as the “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” guidance issued by OCR in 2014. These withdrawn documents provided detailed guidance to colleges and universities regarding how to respond to instances of alleged sexual harassment or sexual violence.

We are concerned that rescinding these guidance documents signals a diminished interest in protecting survivors of sexual violence and sexual harassment, which is anathema to a healthy academic environment. We recognize the profound harm that sexual violence and sexual harassment cause in our community.

As articulated by Chancellor Carol Christ, addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence is a top priority for the campus. We are committed to taking the strongest steps possible to prevent and respond to these cases. These efforts take four forms: prevention, response, support and remediation. In striving for excellence and innovation in each of these areas, our campus is proudly continuing along a path forged by many courageous student leaders and activists; dedicated campus practitioners and administrators; and caring and committed members of our community.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at colleges and universities that, like UC Berkeley, receive federal funding. Sex discrimination includes sexual harassment and sexual violence, which can affect people of all genders and identities. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are also prohibited by UC policy, state law and other federal laws.

We want to assure the campus that while OCR’s position may have altered, Title IX itself remains unchanged, as does our campus commitment to complying with its foundational mandates.

UC Berkeley, like the other campuses in the UC system, will continue to follow existing response policies aimed at ensuring an efficient and fair system for all parties. The UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment still requires employees to notify the campus Title IX Officer when sexual harassment or sexual violence involving a student is reported to them. The UC policy provides clear and transparent procedures for investigating reported misconduct and for imposing sanctions, when necessary. The UC policy is intact. Our campus is adhering to it.

In last week’s announcement regarding Title IX enforcement, the secretary of education withdrew the requirement that campuses employ a “more likely than not” preponderance of the evidence standard when investigating reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment. The University of California, however — including the Berkeley campus — will continue to employ the preponderance standard, as it has done for decades.

The secretary of education has also rescinded the mandate that both complainants and respondents have the right to appeal decisions in the student adjudication process. Under UC policy, however, UC Berkeley will continue to provide both parties with this right. UC Berkeley’s Title IX Office will continue to inform complainants about their rights and options for addressing sexual misconduct and will continue to investigate allegations of conduct prohibited under UC policy.

Last week’s guidance documents from the Department of Education refers to “basic elements of fairness and due process.” UC Berkeley remains strongly committed to these ideals.

While response to sexual harassment and sexual violence is critically important to get right, our campus believes that the most fundamental way to address the significant problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence is through prevention and education. This is why the university requires annual training of students, staff and faculty; this is why the chancellor has allocated significant resources to centers, such as UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center, that conduct prevention and education activities; and this is why our campus now has a special faculty advisor to the chancellor for sexual violence and sexual harassment. The goal is to change norms and culture to prevent violence and harassment from occurring in the first place.

The campus is also committed to strengthening support for individual survivors and remediation for communities affected by sexual harassment and sexual violence, when it does occur. Campus community members can continue to turn to the PATH to Care Center for confidential survivor advocacy and resources. A number of groups on campus, including OPHD, PATH to Care, the Gender Equity Resource Center and the Division for Equity and Inclusion, offer sessions for academic and administrative units on campus that are striving to improve the health of their communities. Our central campus resources website is a repository of useful information in this regard.

We recognize that sexual harassment and sexual violence are serious problems in our society at large. Prevention, response, support and remediation are the goals of the four-part strategy we bring to addressing these problems on our campus. Every member of our university’s leadership team has an unwavering commitment to equality and equity across the rich diversity of genders, sexual identities, religions, abilities, ethnicities and identities in our community. Ideals of mutual trust and respect underlie the original Title IX legislation. It is our shared responsibility as a campus community to uphold them. While the recent announcement by the federal government is discouraging at a general level, it will not daunt our efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual violence from our community.

Sharon Inkelas is the special faculty advisor to the chancellor on sexual violence/sexual harassment. Denise Oldham is the Title IX officer and director of the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. Mari Knuth-Bouracee is the director of the PATH to Care Center.