Diving Into Wellness

A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.

15% 

This is the percentage of students nationwide who have experienced sexual assault and reported using their college’s formal Title IX reporting processes.  

Despite resources that have been established to specifically address and reduce sexual assault on campuses, those who experience it are still more likely to remain silent than to file an official report: a report which would contribute to school records of misconduct, provide insight on how to address that misconduct, and, ideally, result in consequences proportional to the act itself. 

Given the importance of official complaints, it would seem logical that legislation would strive to increase accessibility of Title IX. However, recent moves by the Trump administration show otherwise. 

In a 60 Minutes interview on March 11, 2018, when asked whether she believes the number of false accusations of sexual assault are equivalent to the number of incidents, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos responded, “I don’t know.” Data shows that 21 percent of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students, 18 percent of non-TGQN females, and 4 percent of non-TGQN males have been sexually assaulted. Conversely, the window of false reporting estimates falls between 2 and 10 percent.

Still, despite this evidence to the contrary, DeVos maintains her belief that current Title IX processes disproportionately favor victims. 

The newest Title IX guidelines — released just before Fall break — reflect DeVos’s bias and her attempts to further complicate what many perceive as an already inaccessible process. In DeVos’s words, however, the procedures will simply “balance the scales of justice.” 

Some proposed changes include:

 

• A “live hearing” during which students’ Title IX process advisors would cross-examine both parties

• No requirement to investigate off-campus incidents 

• Establishment of “clear and convincing standard,” which requires a higher burden of proof than the current legal standard in civil court

 

These changes are a stark contrast to the existing guidelines and would effectively discourage individuals from coming forward. DeVos is drawing rhetoric from criminal law standards that assume innocence. Title IX is a civil rights law and is therefore founded on the assumption that both parties’ stories hold equal credibility.  By conflating the two, these guidelines effectively de-center the victim and allow the perpetrator to receive the benefit of doubt. 

At CC, there is no point at which an individual reporting misconduct is required to stand for cross examination. “Live hearings” carry great potential to re-traumatize survivors as they force them to relive and defend their own pain.  

The exclusion of off-campus locations in Title IX proceedings would drastically impact the safety of students, as the social activities that occur outside CC confines are those with the highest risk of sexual assault.  

“Preponderance of evidence” requires a determination of guilt if the incident was “more likely than not” to have occurred. This is the legal standard for all civil cases and is currently used by CC for all student conduct. 

So long as the percentage of those who use Title IX processes remains below those who experience assault, the emphasis must remain on breaking norms that benefit perpetrators, not those that protect them.  

Colorado College is committed to maintaining the standards it currently holds, even in the face of national upheaval. We, as students, must use our voices to ensure that it does. The WRC will be releasing more information about how to participate in the notice and comment period. Do not hesitate to reach out if you are concerned about how this will impact you and your community.  

Susanna Penfield

Susanna Penfield

Susanna Penfield, class of 2020, writes the weekly column “Diving Into Wellness” in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center. She is a Political Science Major and Feminist and Gender Studies Minor, co-chair of Student Title IX Assistance and Resource Team (START), editor for the Leviathan - CC’s journal for art, poetry, and prose - and member of the Cutthroat Rugby Team. In addition to the Catalyst, Susanna has been published in Cipher and the Leviathan, and her personal essays have been featured in both Colorado’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction and the America’s Emerging Writers Series.
Susanna Penfield

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