Colleges across the country could potentially see policy changes in how sexual assault cases are handled.
This comes after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she intends to rescind Title IX sexual assault guidelines.
The President’s Office sent out an email on Sept. 13 regarding nondiscrimination and Title IX. The email included SHU’s Title IX statement and outlined what is prohibited under it.
In the email, Interim President Dr. Mary Meehan wrote, “Seton Hall University is committed to providing a working and learning environment that is free from unlawful discrimination and harassment, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
Meehan wrote that “it is important that we treat each other with dignity, acceptance and mutual respect.”
“Seton Hall is enriched educationally, spiritually and socially by the diversity of its faculty, employees and students,” she wrote.
DeVos’ intentions to revoke the guidelines were announced in an interview with CBS News on Sept. 7. She has not specified any changes as of yet.
The Title IX guidelines were put in place in 2011 by the Obama administration as a guide for schools to follow when investigating sexual misconduct, according to CBS News’ website. The former administration outlined these guidelines in a memo called the “Dear Colleague Letter.”
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender and demands equal opportunity for education. Discrimination and harassment, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence, is prohibited under Title IX.
The guidelines set by the Obama administration “lowered the standard of proof in sexual assault cases and allowed accusers to appeal not-guilty findings,” according to CBS News. Schools who do not comply will have their federal funding withheld.
Opponents to the guidelines claim they have disregarded due process and thereby, have created an additional class of victims. This class of victims is comprised of innocent students accused of sexual assault who are denied fair hearings and punished by suspension or expulsion, CBS News said.
Before the interview, DeVos spoke at George Mason University where she said administration would revise the current policy.
DeVos said “acts of sexual misconduct are reprehensible, disgusting and unacceptable. They are acts of cowardice and personal weakness.”
DeVos said that since she became secretary, she has heard from those impacted by sexual misconduct and has learned that “the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” she said.
All sexual misconduct survivors need to be taken seriously and every student who is accused of sexual misconduct should know that guilt is not predetermined, she said.
A notice-and-comment process will be employed, DeVos said.
Notice-and-comment rulemaking is defined as the process of rulemaking where “an agency typically must give the public notice of a proposed rule and an opportunity to comment before the rule may be adopted,” according to Quimbee, a study aid website for law students.
DeVos also said they “will seek public feedback and combine institutional knowledge, professional expertise and the experiences of students to replace the current approach with a workable, effective and fair system.”
She added, “any perceived offense can be turned into a full blown Title IX investigation. If everything is harassment then nothing is.” She assured that her department will set guidelines to protect victims of sexual assault and guarantee fair hearings for those accused.
Dean Karen Van Norman, associate vice president and dean of students, is Seton Hall’s deputy coordinator for Title IX.
Van Norman wrote in an email that DeVos “has not indicated any immediate changes,” but instead called for a period of notice-and-comment.
“Seton Hall University has extensive policies to encourage survivors of sexual violence to come forward and report what happened to them, to provide support and accommodations for them, to assure due process for all parties in cases of adjudication, and to provide extensive education and outreach for our entire community to prevent all types of sexual misconduct and sexual violence,” Van Norman said.
“We all have a role to play in changing the culture where sexual violence occurs,” she wrote.
“Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen at the federal level, we can make a difference at the campus level, that’s what the KNOW MORE campaign and programs are about.”
KNOW MORE educates students on sexual assault and alcohol and drug abuse.
Students discussed their opinions on DeVos’ announcement and how this could affect the nation.
Cherish Carrillo, a senior diplomacy major, knew about Title IX but was unaware of what it detailed.
Carrillo said more should be done about sexual assault on college campuses.
“I think colleges tend to sweep it [sexual assault] under the rug and if they have an opportunity to not publicize it or not to have to take full action they will 100 percent take that route,” Carrillo said.
While she does not know a lot about DeVos’ plan, Carrillo said that the Education Secretary should not have announced that she is rescinding the current guidelines before she has a policy in place or an idea of what she wants to do.
Carrillo added that DeVos saying she wants to rescind the policy without announcing another plan will cause “upheaval in policy.”
Radhika Patel, a graduate nursing student, had not previously heard the Title IX guidelines.
However, she said more should be done about sexual assault on campuses. She suggested more workshops on campuses and said students could be informed about sexual misconduct and Title IX during involvement fairs.
While the policy changes are unknown, Patel said they could be positive. She said “everyone should have their equal opportunities” and that all people “should have all the same capabilities since we’re all human beings.”
Charles Niece, a junior Catholic theology major, said he does not think DeVos’ announcement is a big deal in the sense that it is not anything drastic. Niece said it is a standard moral guideline to put something in place.
While he was unaware of Title IX guidelines, he said more guidelines need to be set up in situations like these and that sexual assault can be hard to prove.
“University policy should be stronger on that [sexual assault] because they’re more boots on the ground than federal or state programs,” Niece said.
Samantha Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.