Title IX Coordinator comments on interim guidelines

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Under the Trump administration, the effectiveness of Title IX has been repeatedly questioned. Title IX, which was first introduced as a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, states no person, on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits or opportunities of any educational program or activity that receives federal funding.

The three main areas of conflict Title IX regulations apply to include gender bias issues, employee harassment issues and student harassment issues. However, in more recent years, Title IX has become focused on prohibiting sexual harassment, violence and misconduct.

Mark Ankeny, Pacific University Title IX coordinator and vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said he is confident Pacific’s system for Title IX is operating effectively.

“My job is to analyze the evidence, see whether or not we’re complying with Title IX regulations and ensure we’re making it possible for due process,” Ankeny said. “None of the evidence I’ve seen from the last year would indicate to me that we need to make any changes in the way in which our system is working.”

According to Ankeny, as Pacific’s own system is currently structured, all Title IX cases relating to sexual misconduct between students are adjudicated through the Office of Student Conduct.

“There isn’t actually a Title IX hearing, it would be a Student Conduct hearing as a result of a Title IX type of infraction,” Ankeny said. “The University has a regulatory responsibility under Title IX to make certain that we are doing everything possible to mitigate sexual harassment and sexual violations.”

This Student Conduct process, for resolving cases related to Title IX, is started as soon as a person comes forward with a complaint. There is a maximum of a 60 day timeline that the conduct process is supposed to operate within, and it begins with the issuing of written notices to both of the parties involved.

Both parties then meet with the Director of Student Conduct, Lindsey Blem, to walk through the details of the Student Conduct process and to learn what will happen throughout the investigation and hearing. Each party then meets with investigators to share their side of the story and to answer any questions the investigators have.

During the official Student Conduct Board Hearing, each party can bring with them a character witness they want the Board to hear from. And at the end of the hearing, the Board gives an official outcome on whether or not the accused party violated conduct policy and what the outcome is.

In these Student Conduct Hearings, each party is able to bring an emotional support person with them, and each party is able to appeal the Board’s final decision. The highest possible punishments at these Student Conduct Hearings are suspension or expulsion.

“It’s important to make the distinction that this is not a court of law,” Ankeny said. “We have no type of jurisdiction over any kind of legal matter at all. The only thing we decide is, has one of these parties, or both parties in some cases, violated the conduct. And, is the violation of such magnitude that we then have to take an even stronger course of action as a result.”

Though Ankeny feels confident in the strength of Pacific’s current justice process for Title IX infractions, changes and updates to school policy may soon be coming. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not hidden her dislike for the Obama-era administration’s guidelines for the handling of Title IX cases.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” DeVos said on Sept. 7, during her speech on Title IX. “Survivor, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved. That’s why we must do better, because the current approach isn’t working.”

On Sept. 22 talk turned to action as the Education Department formally announced its rescission of Obama-era guidance on how schools handle and process sexual assault under Title IX. The Education Department also issued guidelines, clearly laying out the obligations of schools when it comes to handling sexual assaults and what a school’s flexibility is when it comes to creating and enforcing its own procedures.

One of the largest changes as a result of the Education Department’s interim guidance is that the standard of proof has been raised for school disciplinary proceedings. The Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letters, which were designed to reinforce Title IX standards, has also been rescinded as a result of the interim guidance.

Though the new guidelines will certainly create new work for Ankeny and the Title IX Leadership team, Kathleen Converse, Campus Wellness Coordinator and Title IX Leadership team member, said she is more concerned with what new mandates and guidelines might mean for the survivors of sexual assault.

According to Converse, Pacific’s Campus Climate Survey last spring found that one-in-ten Pacific students have been sexually assaulted. Converse, who said the rate of reporting on campus is already low, said these new guidelines for Title IX could prevent others from coming forward to seek justice against their attackers.

“The most important thing is that this legislation, Title IX, helps support survivors and helps support our entire community as a whole,” Converse said. “This is really a call to action. Let’s work together to uphold Title IX and make our campus a safer place for all students and to support survivors.”


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