CC Amid Federal Title IX Changes

By  ETHAN GREENBERG ’20

Student Body President-elect

In November 2018, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released proposed Title IX changes. In the intervening months, there have been over 105,000 public comments submitted as part of federal rule-making procedure. Colorado College Student Governemt Association must be aware of, and participate in, the national debate about Title IX changes, not only during April and the associated Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but also throughout the year. 

If you are unaware of the changes, the entire proposal can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. There are many facets of the reforms that are troubling, including but not limited to these bullets listed below.

• The reforms would limit a school’s jurisdiction to only incidents that occur on campus or at a school-sponsored event. At best, this suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of college life, and at worst a devious method to allow for schools to limit their liability and responsibility to prevent assault. Many assaults and incidents of harassment, both at CC and at other colleges and universities across the nation, occur at houses, parties, etc. held off  campus and with no official college sponsorship. Nevertheless, an assault off campus clearly impacts the educational future of the parties involved. 

• The proposal changes the definition of sexual harassment. Under the previous guidelines, the operative definition was “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Under the new guidelines, the definition reads “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” If conduct is unwelcome and of a sexual nature, it is harassment, plain and simple. 

• The proposal would move from the current system, in which the Title IX process designates investigators who serve as the fact-finders, to a system that would include live disciplinary hearings and cross-examination, which scholars note will discourage survivors from coming forward. 

• What the proposal lacks is equally troubling as what it includes. The proposal does not address the rights of transgender students at all. Early in Secretary DeVos’ tenure, she revoked the Title IX guidelines for transgender students that were established during the Barack Obama administration. The new proposals say nothing about a possible replacement, leaving the subject entirely unaddressed.

In recognition of the gravity of the proposed changes, an event on April 9 brought U.S. Air Force Academy cadets and CC students together to discuss the reforms. The event was hosted by the Democratic Dialogue Project, which aims to foster connection between USAFA and CC. 

Colorado College staff members Anna Thompson, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Dr. Heather Horton, director of the Wellness Resource Center, and Montana Bass, paraprofessional in the WRC, were joined by two USAFA personnel as presenters. Because it is a military academy, USAFA operates under a separate set of policy guidelines; however, the practice of comparing and contrasting the institutions and their respective support systems and reporting processes sheds light on potential areas of improvement for both schools. 

As Horton noted at the talk, these proposed rule changes mean that CC must view Title IX differently. Under the previous framework, compliance with Title IX usually meant compliance with best practices. Under the proposed rule changes, CC will obviously need to comply with Title IX, but will also view it as the lowest common denominator with the need to build institutional capacity above and beyond its bare requirements.  

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