The University adopted a new Title IX policy on Aug. 14, as required by federal guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education in May.
These guidelines set standards for the procedures and definitions that universities must operate under during Title IX hearings, while narrowing the scope of offenses that would violate Title IX.
UNC’s Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct previously served as an “umbrella” policy and covered discrimination and harassment based on any protected status, sexual assault or sexual violence, sexual exploitation, interpersonal violence, stalking, complicity for knowingly aiding in acts of prohibited conduct and retaliation.
This policy has not changed, Director of Title IX Compliance Adrienne Allison said.
“We haven’t previously had a separate Title IX policy, so the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct has always been our umbrella policy that has covered what we know call Title IX sexual harassment,” Allison said.
To comply with the federal regulations, UNC created a new policy — The Policy on Prohibited Sexual Harassment Under Title IX.
“So now what we have done is carved this narrow scope of conduct that will go under our new Title IX policy,” Allison said.
Differences in policy
One of the major differences in the new Title IX policy is definitional, and can be boiled down to the difference between “and” vs. “or.”
Title IX sexual harassment is now defined as “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to a University education program or activity.”
But under the PPDHRM, sexual harassment is defined as “severe, persistent, or pervasive enough,” to create a hostile environment that would interfere with a student’s education, employment or participation in a University program.
Another difference is the jurisdiction of the University. The new Title IX policy applies to locations over which the University “exercised substantial control,” including any building owned by a student organization officially recognized by the University, such as recognized fraternity and sorority houses. The new Title IX policy also only applies to conduct that occurs in the United States.
“This might include, for example, a report of a sexual assault during a University Study Abroad program. While that conduct would not fall under the Title IX Sexual Harassment Policy (because it does not occur in the United States), that conduct could be addressed under the PPDHRM,” Allison wrote in a follow-up email.
The Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance oversees both of these policies and the reporting process will not change, Allison said.
The policies split when the office must make a determination on whether the report falls under the PPDRHM or the Title IX policy.
“Because at that point, if we’re looking at doing a formal investigation, if that’s what the person wants — then there will be some procedural differences between conduct that falls under the Title IX policy and conduct that falls under the PPDHRM,” Allison said.
Misconduct that explicitly falls under the narrowed scope of Title IX sexual harassment will be subjected to the Title IX process. All other misconduct that violates the PPDHRM would still be investigated under that policy.
Differences in procedure
The primary differences between cases that are evaluated in the PPDHRM process and the Title IX process are who makes the determination of the case and what the hearing process looks like.
Under the new Title IX process, there will be a live hearing in front of a panel.
“And in that hearing, there has to be cross examination,” Allison said.
This cross examination would occur with both the reporting and responding party present.
In order for any information to be considered by the hearing panel, each party or witness must submit to cross examination, Allison said. The parties will be cross examined by an advocate or hearing adviser representing the other party.
The hearing panel will determine whether or not there was a policy violation. Under the PPDHRM process, an investigator gathers evidence, weighs the evidence and then makes a determination. During the process, a hearing coordinator asks questions and directs them from one party to another.
During the Title IX process, the investigator will still conduct interviews and collect evidence, but that investigator will not issue a determination.
Throughout the new Title IX process, the University will have to provide a hearing adviser to represent each party.
“The role of that hearing adviser is to conduct cross examination during that hearing,” Allison said. "That person will be posing questions of any witnesses and will be asking of the other party.”
Ensuring that the University provides an advocate for both the reporting and responding party is new under these Title IX guidelines, Allison said.
“In the other process (PPDHRM), anyone is entitled to have an advocate of their choice, but it is not a person that the University has ever provided,” Allison said.
When the Department of Education announced the new federal guidelines, UNC students petitioned UNC to create policies that protect the rights of student survivors.
“UNC can adopt policies that are supportive of all students, while still abiding by the federal regulations,” the petition states.
Over 2,400 people co-signed this petition. The students behind this petition later wrote an op-ed about what demands the University responded to, while calling on UNC to put action behind promises.
Salena Braye-Bulls, one of the authors of the petition, said while the feedback they received from the University was encouraging, she wants to see more action. Mary Laci Motley said she was surprised that the University responded at all.
“They’re not being as transparent and direct to students,” said Georgia Broitman.
When UNC announced the adoption of the new Title IX policy, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini said in an email that UNC plans to hold a Zoom webinar in September to explain the policy changes.
Broitman said she hopes students attend these webinars so they can understand their rights and what this new policy means.
“We want the administration to do what they said they’re going to do,” Broitman said.
Broitman said the group's advocacy will continue. The four students — Broitman, Braye-Bulls, Motley and Lara Matsukura Bernardino — are working on organizing and continuing to demand that UNC is transparent, clear and direct in its language regarding Title IX on campus.
“Vagueness will favor the offender in our society and culture,” Broitman said.
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