The Title IX revisions proposed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are still under consideration after the submission of more than 100,000 public comments during a 62-day comment period.
In October, the ASUC released a letter to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget written on behalf of UC Berkeley students, expressing concerns about the potential revisions. The letter addressed the fact that the Title IX revisions would narrow the scope of sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, cases that universities are allowed to investigate. One aspect of the revisions would restrict the reach of Title IX to campus grounds, which excludes Greek houses and co-ops.
“There is a lot of room for incidents of SVSH to occur,” said ASUC Senator Teddy Lake. “The fact that they (would be) out of our jurisdiction for investigation is really disconcerting.”
Another of DeVos’ rules would allow the defendants to cross-examine their accusers in live hearings. Lake spoke out against the cross-examination process, stating that it would reinforce the trauma and power dynamics of the situation.
UC President Janet Napolitano responded in an op-ed for the Washington Post, stating that the proposed revisions create “woefully minimal standards” and that “UC will not reduce protections for its own community members.” Chancellor Carol Christ reinforced, in the 2018 Annual Report on Sexual Violence/Sexual Harassment, that “preventing and responding to SVSH will remain a top priority” in light of the recent developments. ASUC Senator Zach Carter said that if Title IX is revised under DeVos’ rules, it would be “extremely watered-down and limited, which is detrimental to the survivor,” as “it’s not survivor-centric, and it’s going to leave people stranded.”
The proposed revisions would also define sexual harassment as “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 school’s education program or activity,” according to a press release from the Department of Education.
Nuha Khalfay, ASUC External Affairs Vice President, said in an email that this new definition would restrict the number of incidents that fall under the category of sexual harassment and may have a negative impact on the academic community. She added that shifting from “a preponderance of evidence” to an evidentiary standard would tip the scales against and place burden on the survivor, in addition to creating a “culture of disbelief.”
The vote on the revisions to Title IX may take anywhere from weeks to months. Both Lake and Carter have proposed plans in the case that the revisions pass, however.
Lake proposes that the ASUC “lean more heavily on the aspect of prevention,” specifically by reforming the way current SVSH educational talks are conducted. Carter, on the other hand, supports looking at how the ASUC can “publicize the resources Berkeley offers” and educating the public about the specific functions of the Center for Student Conduct, the PATH to Care Center, the Tang Center and UCPD in the reporting process. Carter also calls for increasing the funding for the PATH to Care Center, as he predicts “the demand for the center’s resources will skyrocket” if the proposed Title IX revisions go through.
The Berkeley Unified School District also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education stating that the proposed changes to Title IX go against its mission of keeping students safe and providing “safe and supportive learning environments.” The letter addressed concerns about how the revisions would affect the ability of the district to aid student cases of SVSH that occur off campus or online.
As the wait for the vote continues, UC spokesperson Claire Doan has confirmed that the UC has formed a work group to assess its policies and procedures and to look into new measures while prioritizing the university’s “unwavering commitment to the safety, security and well-being of our students and the broader UC community.”
“The federal bureaucracy process is long, complicated and accounts for public input. I hope that our input as well as that of hundreds of thousands of other stakeholders will be taken seriously,” Khalfay said in her email.