Fordham Cannot Let Title IX Falter

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has once again demonstrated that she does not have students’ best interest in mind.

After first taking Title IX policies to task regarding how campuses handle accusations of sexual assault and harassment last September, DeVos and the Department of Education released a new onslaught of proposed regulations on Nov. 16.

Days later, DeVos took to The Washington Post, penning an op-ed that explains the proposal and offers her justifications for its content. Among the changes—all of which eradicate positive strides made during the Obama administration—three are particularly significant.

If DeVos’ proposed changes are, in fact, enacted, the behavior of the accused must first be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims to the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect.”

This concept is a far departure from the “preponderance of the evidence” standard that, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) rationalizes, is used in all other proceedings of sexual harassment.

Second, a college or university is required to respond to the accusation only if the alleged assault occurred on its campus or premises owned by the school.

Given that the Department of Education’s own footnote not only mentions that 41 percent of sexual assault claims occurred off-campus, but also writes that this statistic is likely a severe underestimation, it is unacceptable to give administrations across the country a pass if acts of sexual violence happen outside of their gates.

As the old adage goes, give an inch, take a mile. But DeVos would like to give a mile. Then what?

Third, and perhaps the most unsettling of DeVos’ amendments: accused parties or their lawyers would now be able to cross-examine those accusing them of sexual assault or harassment.

While due process is important, this modification will, without a doubt, re-traumatize survivors of sexual assault who come forward.

Sexual assault hearings held at universities are not conducted under strict legal settings like a court case, which leaves room for improper questioning and other difficulties. While these measures come from a desire to maintain the assumed innocence of the accused, they could instead serve as a chilling effect for victims coming forward at all.

Regardless of what the federal changes are at the end of the Department of Education’s 60-day period for submitted feedback, the editorial board of The Fordham Ram strongly urges our administration to operate according to its current Title IX procedures.

In doing so, our university must also double down to dismantle the stigma surrounding sexual assault on our campus and reanalyze the efficacy of its sexual education procedures.

According to the results from the Title IX Campus Climate Survey conducted in the 2016-2017 academic year, 77 percent of students recalled receiving Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE).

Nearly 96 percent of those students found the training either extremely, very, moderately or slightly useful.

By lumping all of these numbers together and not delineating the data, we do not get a clear picture of just how helpful these educational procedures are.

In looking at the knowledge of campus leadership and university policies, 48 percent of students were familiar with the role of our Title IX coordinator and 64 percent were familiar with the university’s procedures for handling sexual misconduct.

Eighty percent of sudents responded that they knew the definition of affirmative consent regarding sexual activity for our campus community.
There is certainly more that we can do to get these numbers to 100 percent, especially bearing in mind that the response rate of this survey was a measly 13 percent and barely representative of our student body.

Standing up to these potential changes would be important not just practically, but also as a sign of support for sexual assault victims.

Although Fordham may soon find itself at the whims of DeVos’ jurisdiction and expected to align its legal procedures accordingly, it is important that our administration focuses on the prevention of and punishment for sexual violence with commitment and compassion.

The whims of one woman who has made dismantling every change crafted under the Obama administration a priority should not have precedent over scores of sexual assault victims, both past, present and future.