Despite Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s decision to rescind Title IX regulations, Whittier College will continue to enforce policies from the Sexual Misconduct Policy of 2017-2018.
Title IX Coordinator and Vice President Joel Pèrez and President Sharon Hertzberger sent out an official statement last week voicing support for the program and reaffirming its value on our campus. “Moving forward, the College will continue to strive for equity within the Title IX process and provide support for all those involved,” they said. The statement was sent out as a Student L, partly in response to the Violence Intervention and Prevention club (VIP) on campus calling them to action following DeVos’s speech announcing rollbacks on Sep. 7. “It is important that you send a message to our community not only to remind us of our commitment to Title IX, but also to let survivors know that Whittier College is a safe place that will uphold current Title IX policies, regardless of any changes that the Trump Administration might make,” said the letter by VIP.
The basis of Title IX is, “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...” 20 U.S.C. § 1681. This includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender based violence. Title IX serves the important purpose of providing policies and instructions for how to handle deeply personal issues.
However, it is not the only set of federal regulations that college campuses must comply with. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2013 mandates all higher education institutes to have violence prevention programs on campus as well as a procedural route for ongoing cases. The College uses Think About It, a program put on by Campus Clarity to educate all first-year and transfer students about sexual assault and dating violence.
VAWA is a law passed by Congress, meaning that, as DeVos makes cuts to Obama-Era guidelines, there is policy she cannot change unless she appeals to Congress. DeVos voiced her concerns over Title IX in her speech, “Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach. With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”
Currently, all educational institutions that receive federal funding are required to hire or train an individual to act as Title IX Coordinator and oversee that the federal statute is being carried out. Whittier College explains this responsibility in the Sexual Misconduct Policy as, “While the College conducts most of its investigations and adjudicates complaints through its own Title IX investigators, it has the right to hire non-College employees to conduct investigations and adjudicate such complaints when it deems appropriate.”
Pèrez’s responsibilities as Title IX coordinator are described as, “Coordinating the College’s efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title IX... as well as retaliation for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by Title IX.” All comments about the program go to him, as do claims against students of the College. Deputy Title IX Coordinators Cynthia Joseph and Darrin Good handle cases against staff and faculty, respectively. Siobhan Skerritt, the Director of Student Rights & Responsibilities, is the Lead Title IX Investigator.
DeVos takes issue with the procedural process by which Title IX Investigators and Coordinators come to their decisions. After spending the summer touring the country meeting with sexual assault survivors, Title IX Coordinators, and a men’s rights group representing the accused, she feels due process is not being followed. “The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” said DeVos. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”
“Regardless of her statements, we believe we’re providing a fair process for all parties involved in sexual misconduct cases,” said Pérez. “A Title IX Coordinator’s job is to make sure the process is being followed, making sure the process is equitable, effective, and timely.”
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Education enforces the regulations. Candice Jackson, a high level OCR employee, said in July, “Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”
Jackson’s comments infuriated many activists for understating the seriousness of investigating sexual assaults. Furthermore, the situation she’s describing does violate Title IX policies. Whittier College Sexual Misconduct Policy 2017-2018 clearly states, “Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
Information directly from the Department of Education on Title IX is relatively limited, and campuses are required to use their own monetary resources to comply with standards. The College uses the Association of Title IX Administrators, a third party group, to train Investigators and Coordinators and supply information to train faculty.
DeVos also stated that rollbacks on Obama-Era policies had already begun, but that they are a “process, and not an event.” It is unclear what these cuts will entail and what stance the Department of Education will take moving forward. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who tackled sexual assault on college campuses in his It’s On Us campaign, took issue with DeVos’s statements. “The truth is, although people don’t want to talk about the brutal reality of sexual assault, especially when it occurs in our most cherished institutions, it is our reality, and it must be faced head-on. And, any change that weakens Title IX protections will be devastating,” Biden said in a Facebook statement.
It is currently unclear the damage that would be caused by Title IX rollbacks, both in terms of the policy and morale of education. However, the College will remain a safe place for Poets to come forward about sexual assault or gender based violence. “We will make every effort to be in compliance with the Violence Against Women Act and to respond to reporting parties, and we’re gonna try hard to make sure students know that, regardless of what DeVos said we’re gonna follow our policy,” said Pérez.