By Shoham Geva, Summer Managing News Editor
Published June 21, 2014
The Department of Education officially enrolled proposed rule changes for regulations governing how college campuses are federally mandated to protect sexual assault Friday morning.
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The changes are primarily connected to modifications passed in 2013 to the Violence Against Women Act, which in turn modified the Clery Act. The Clery Act is a federal statute that mandates campus reporting and campus security policies for issues of sexual assault.
Under federal procedure, upon passage of the modifications, the Department of Education, which enforces the acts, was required to come up with specific language and regulations that correspond to the new or changed objectives set forth in the bills. This language and regulations are what was enrolled Friday in the Federal Register.
Holly Rider-Milkovich, University sexual assault prevention and awareness center director and a federal negotiator for the regulations, said the renewal date for the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, combined with cultural factors, was primarily what led to the additional regulations.
“I think legislators, as they were considering the Campus Save Act component as a part of the Violence Against Women Act, were responding to a particular cultural moment — the courage of survivors on these campuses across the nation raising this issue to a national level, combined with the increase of scrutiny and increase of accountability that is coming from the federal government,” she said.
A panel of student survivors, representatives of advocacy groups and colleges and members of law enforcement, along with the Department of Education, negotiated the terms of the regulations.
Prominent changes include new rules for universities on the statistics they collect under the Clery Act, broadening the data collection to include incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, as well as the adoption of the FBI’s definition of rape, which the press release described as more inclusive, and the addition of gender identity and national origin as eligible bias categories for hate crime filed under the Clery Act.
Universities will also required to make sure that their arbitration processes are “fair, prompt, and impartial”, according to the press release, and are also mandated to strengthen victim confidentiality practices, and provide specified requirements for sexual assault prevention programs on campus.
The plans will not be finalized until November 1 because federal regulations require a waiting period after the announcement of proposed rules for comment from the public and consideration of comments. Public commenting is open on the proposed rules until July 21.
This is the second time in two months that the White House has addressed sexual assault. At the end of April, they announced the results of a special White House taskforce which explored several issues around sexual assault, including ways to help universities understand and comply better with Title IX regulations on college campuses. Title IX governs certain measures of sexual assault issues on college campuses under its mandate to prevent sex-based discrimination.
Rider-Milkovich said many of the changes proposed Friday, such as the more intensive requirements for data collection beyond strictly incidents classified as sexual assault, are significant because of the more precise and consistent view of sexual assault on college campuses they provide. The Clery Act’s main focus is security and reporting policies.
“Many campuses, many survivor advocates, and now Congress, recognized that when we’re only looking at sexual assault, we’re looking an incomplete profile of the kind of harm that a student can harm that would interrupt their academic life, and so this seeks to expand that and provide more complete information to students and the public,” she said.
She added that the University has either implemented, or is in the process of working towards implementing all of the proposed changes, and said most relevant at the University is the requirement concerning sexual assault prevention programs on campus. The University currently provides undergraduate prevention programs, and is working on implementing ones tailored for graduate students and staff members, who Rider-Milkovich said have had a less consistent training experience in comparison to undergraduates.
“The real promise of this kind of requirement for Michigan, and for all campuses, is that we get that much closer to achieving universal trainings on these issues that are designed for and appropriate for specific audiences.” she said. “The graduate student training was different from the undergraduate student training, because their lives are different, how these issues impact them, is different. And incoming staff will receive a different kind of training, but the core messages, and the core content, and the philosophical underpinnings of all of those trainings will be consistent for our entire community, which is a powerful prevention effort.”
Assuming there are no challenges to the proposed rules, colleges could be required to follow the new guidelines as soon as next year.