Recent reforms to Title IX at the national level, which offer increased protection to alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment, are eliciting urgent responses from students at Colorado College.
Title IX, a provision of the Education Amendments of 1972, was passed as an addition to the Civil Rights Act (1964). While the Civil Rights Act prevented discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity, the act did not prevent discrimination on the basis of sex. On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into effect, creating formal protections from discrimination on the basis of sex in the education system. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Title IX has historically been used to protect students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. According to advocate groups, such as the ACLU, “[W]hen students suffer sexual assault and harassment, they are deprived of equal and free access to an education.”
However, earlier in the 2018–19 school year, the US Department of Education proposed a set of reforms to Title IX. These reforms increased legal protection given to students accused of sexual misconduct.
The reforms propose a new definition of the term “sexual harassment.” They state that sexual harassment is an “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 recipient’s education program or activity.” Previously, the Obama administration had described “sexual harassment” as simply “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
Another reform to Title IX allows a person who is accused of sexual misconduct to cross-examine the victim. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, cross-examination had previously been discouraged under the Obama administration because of the potential of retraumatizing the victim.
The above reforms have made it increasingly difficult for victims to report acts of sexual harassment and/or successfully convict a perpetrator for sexual harassment.
What are the implications of the reformed Title IX bill for CC?
According to CC’s college-wide policies under the Title IX office, CC currently maintains a wide definition of the term “sexual harassment.”
The College-Wide Policies state, “Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination. Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Meanwhile, CC students are taking action against the reforms. A written statement to the US Department of Education regarding the proposed reforms to Title IX, submitted by the Kappa Kappa Gamma Delta Zeta and the Delta Gamma Beta Delta Sorority chapters, states, “Sexual harassment should never be the end of anyone’s education … by changing the definition of sexual harassment, we feel that the [US] Department of Education will be failing many women within Greek life at Colorado College who have experienced repeated [assault] from perpetrators in their lives.”
While the exact implications of the new Title IX bill to higher education are unclear, students are adamant about retaining the Obama administration’s approach to Title IX.