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The Daily Tar Heel

What's going on with Title IX?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

The Trump administration is working to overhaul current Title IX regulations, including how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault. This would be one of several changes the U.S. Department of Education has made to Title IX enforcement.

The Office of Management and Budget has also met with civil rights and women advocacy groups to discuss Title IX policy. However, many of these groups are still worried about the forthcoming changes.

Danielle Christenson, the co-policy director at SAFER Campus, a nonprofit that focuses on combating sexual violence on college campuses, said the draft regulation is skewed to the accused despite meetings with various sides.

“I think that DOE has an agenda, and I don’t think they’re going to be swayed by advocate groups," she said. "I think that they’re saving face by meeting with groups to almost say that they met with them, but then not change what they’re doing." 

In September 2017, the department withdrew an April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter on sexual violence and referred to this Obama-era guidance as lacking impartiality.

“The withdrawn documents ignored notice and comment requirements, created a system that lacked basic elements of due process and failed to ensure fundamental fairness," the department said in a statement.

DeVos said only protecting victims’ rights is harmful during her previous remarks on Title IX enforcement at George Mason University.

“The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the 'victim' only creates more victims,” DeVos said.

Christenson questioned this primary principle.

“The shifting focus is wrong," she said. "We should be keeping on track and trying to get victims to report crime. We know that 90 percent of the victims do not report. Yet, all of a sudden, (the department) is so interested in focusing on students falsely accused of sexual assault.” 

DeVos held a Title IX summit in 2017 to meet with victims of campus sexual assault, those accused of sexual assault and higher education officials with their legal teams to discuss the enforcement of Title IX policies and how higher education institutions can respond better to sexual assault.  

SAFER’s research about the department's new focus on the rights of students accused of sexual assault shows these rules are likely to make students refrain from reporting to either the institution or law enforcement.

Joe Vincent, an associate consultant at the NCHERM Group, a law group that focuses on school safety, said the department's proposal is not helpful in ensuring a fair process.

“Those mandates are only going to get in the way, they are not going to help," Vincent said. "What they are going to do is that they’ll advantage the responding party over reporting party.”

Vincent said the mandates are a way to get institutions off the hook. The new draft regulations would remove faculty's obligation to report any known misbehaviors.

These regulations include some other careless aspects, Vincent said, like how it only addresses students, while the scope of people that are affected by Title IX goes far beyond students.

Adrienne Allison, director of Title IX Compliance at UNC's Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, said that the University cannot predict corresponding changes in its policies yet.

“The administration has not formally issued its proposed rules yet, so we can’t speculate on what, if any, changes would need to be made to UNC-Chapel Hill’s policy," she said in an email. "We will follow the formal rulemaking process to determine the impact of any draft or proposed rules on University policy and procedures.”

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