By Angela Cookston
The second monthly “Topics on Tap,” hosted by Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound (ASUPS) president Amanda Díaz on Nov. 8, discussed how the recent changes to Title IX will influence how educational institutions like the University of Puget Sound deal with sexual assault and harassment, as well as how the University plans to deal with these policy changes.
Many individuals and groups on campus that advocate for sexual assault survivors believe this new policy will negatively affect victims. Many think that the changes to Title IX will make the process to come forward as a victim much harder and much more frightening.
The overall purpose of “Topics on Tap” is to facilitate important conversations concerning the University. “One of the biggest challenges we have on campus is that we have a lot of grievances, but we fail to actually talk about them bluntly and honestly in a space where we can actually move forward from this conversation,” Díaz said.
The first speaker, Tiffany Davis, the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at the University of Puget Sound, discussed the policy changes from the in-place 2011 Title IX policy to the new 2017 policy.
Davis explained that there were four main changes to Title IX regarding sexual harassment and sexual violence in educational settings: schools now have more options in the type of evidence used, the 60-day time limit for investigations has been removed, the ban on the use of mediations has been lifted, and appeal requests are not required to be allowed by schools.
The University of Puget Sound, Davis explained, currently uses the preponderance of evidence standard, which means the evidence must show more than 50 percent probability of guilt. This standard requires less evidence than the clear and convincing evidence standard, which is the other standard that schools are allowed to use, according to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. The University will continue to use this less-strict standard in the future even though the new Title IX gives schools the option to use either standard.
Additionally, Davis responded to possible concerns of the removed 60-day limit for investigations: “We actually have a legal obligation to make sure we’re giving a good faith effort. We are not going to drag our feet. However, I will tell you that a 60-day limit can be brutal; you do not want to sacrifice being thorough for speed.”
Mediation, which is an informal way to settle an issue with both parties meeting with a neutral third party, according to HG Legal Resources, was previously banned, but has been allowed in the new Title IX. “I have yet to see a case where I am okay with mediation,” Davis said, citing concern over the mediator’s lack of knowledge regarding power dynamics involved in intimate partner settings. “A mediator who is outside of this [relationship] wouldn’t necessarily recognize what’s going on,” Davis said.
Next, Alisa Kessel, professor and chair of the Politics and Government department discussed the culture behind Betsy DeVos decision to make these changes to Title IX during the current interim period between policies.
Kessel said a possible reason that schools were given the option to use more rigorous evidence standards was because many officials unfortunately believe the myth that false accusations of sexual assault and harassment against young men are common, which is not true.
Kessel explained that there has been a large amount of discussion about the power dynamics of who should be protected in sexual assault and harassment cases. “Who’s likely to be a victim? Whose bodies deserve protection and when? All of those things are sort of at work in this complex narrative,” Kessel said.
Following Professor Kessel, Mariah Prinster, a student involved in Peer Allies spoke to clarify how Title IX would affect the Peer Allies support network.
“Our job for this specifically is to understand [the new Title IX], educate it, and if we have somebody who wants to go through the investigation process … we have to be able to help them through it.” Prinster said. “But necessarily following Title IX, we don’t have to do that because we are a student-run and student-operated group for the student body.”
Lastly, Carly Dryden, president of Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) and a member of the student advisory committee It’s On Us spoke on behalf of her organizations.
“It’s On Us has already taken the stance that we are going to do everything in our power to fight this,” Dryden said. “We see this new guidance basically just making it harder for victims or survivors to come forward. It makes the conduct processes much harder. It makes it much longer. It makes them scarier, just in like the most plain and simple terms, and that’s not what we want.”
Since the University is still in interim guidance and the new Title IX policy has not officially been put in place, President Crawford has said in two emails to the campus community that he will continue to follow the current campus policy until further guidance is received.
In the meantime, as a culture and as individuals, critical conversations must take place in order for change to occur. “Here’s the first question we should be asking ourselves … around sexual assault or harassment. What is my complicity? When have I looked away?” Kessel said.
“I think that’s a really, really important thing for us to be willing to do as a culture, certainly as a community; and if not as a … community, then definitely as just individual humans.”