Content warning: Sexual violence and sexual harassment
A policy regarding the process of handling sexual misconduct accusations went into effect across the UC system Friday after a California court of appeals ruled in December that the respondent is entitled to certain rights, including the right to cross-examine the claimant and the right to a hearing in higher education environments.
The changes address the grounds on which a decision can be appealed. In the past, only certain requests were valid, but the court decision now calls for evidentiary hearings for all requests, regardless of the reason, according to the interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor.
According to Taylor, the primary goal of the UC system is to “(protect) both parties — claimants and respondents — and (uphold) the integrity of the process.”
The UC system has also formed a committee to develop a long-term policy that will eventually replace the temporary one issued Friday, according to Taylor.
The court case specifically regarded the University of Southern California, but the implications of the ruling were expanded to apply to all private and public higher education institutions in California.
The ruling followed the 2018 release of a proposal by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that “ensures that due process protections are in place for all students” and clarifies a university’s legal obligation to respond to allegations “in a supportive, fair manner.”
The recent focus on the rights of the respondents is concerning to some people, given the sensitivity of the issue and its potential effect on survivors.
“I’m sure that the cross examination will make survivors feel intimidated, as the cross examination can invalidate the experiences or view that the survivor holds,” said ASUC Senator Zach Carter in an email. “It is emotionally draining enough to report.”
According to Taylor, the UC system recognizes this issue along with how the policy could affect students.
In the new policy, a separate appeal body conducts the questioning between the parties, according to Taylor. All questions that are deemed “unduly repetitive, not relevant, or harassing” are removed. Parties may also be physically separated, if requested.
“It is UC’s responsibility to ensure fair, just and reliable outcomes,” Taylor said. “We are going to do everything in our power” to ensure this happens.
According to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay, Student Advocate Sophie Bandarkar sits on the systemwide Title IX student advisory board as UC Berkeley’s representative.
“(The ASUC’s) biggest focus is really just working with administration at the UC level to ensure that students — in particular, survivors — are affected as little as possible in a negative way by this change,” Khalfay said in an email.