Changes to Title IX introduced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos went into effect Friday, causing universities, including the UC system, to alter how they handle sexual harassment cases.
The updated Title IX policies require schools to conduct live hearings when a sexual harassment allegation is made. The updated guidelines also allow parties the opportunity to cross-examine each other through an adviser. Those involved can hire an attorney to represent them in the live hearing; however, the policy states advisers can be anyone the party chooses.
The guidelines make cross-examinations voluntary, but those who do not proceed with a cross-examination cannot have their statements made as evidence.
“Despite our advocacy for changes, the (U.S. Department of Education) retained many of the most problematic parts in the final rules,” alleged Suzanne Taylor, UC systemwide Title IX director, and Eric Heng, acting director of UC student policies and governance, in a statement. “We are nonetheless implementing some temporary solutions that we know are not tenable long-term.”
The UC system implemented temporary additions to the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Education, including holding advisers to the UC Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment and conducting virtual hearings instead of in-person ones.
Taylor and Heng said the UC system is closely monitoring advocacy groups challenging the new provisions and will support litigations as appropriate.
Title IX attorney Andrew Miltenberg believes the changes to Title IX clarify the process of reporting sexual harassment and assault and allow for an objective investigation to occur.
Sexual assault survivor advocacy group Know Your IX argued that many of the updated policies are “severely limited” in their scope.
According to Faith Ferber, an organizer for Know Your IX, the changes do not cover instances of assault on study abroad trips, at off-campus events or at unofficial fraternity houses.
Ferber alleged that the new definition of sexual harassment is limited. The Title IX text defines sexual harassment as an instance “that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person equal educational access.”
“Students will have to go through repeated and escalating instances of sexual harassment in order for the school to respond,” Ferber said. “It would have to impact their education to the point that they are either starting to fail or need to drop out.”
Additionally, Ferber said hearings can often be “triggering and re-traumatizing” for survivors.
Ferber added that she believes the guidelines’ broad definition of an adviser would often leave victims at a disadvantage if they could not afford proper representation.
“All of that kind of works together to make it so that survivors are dissuaded from reporting in the first place,” Ferber said. “If they do report the school doesn’t actually have to respond, or only has to respond minimally.”
According to Miltenberg, there are multiple pending lawsuits attempting to halt the Title IX guidelines from going into effect.