Last week, our very own Michigan-born Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, decided to make sexual assault investigations even harder to prosecute through new Title IX rules. In an overhaul of campus sexual assault rules, DeVos reduced the liability of colleges and universities investigating sexual misconduct claims and increased the due process rights of the defendant. There is also a new caveat that allows both the accuser and the accused to cross-examine each other through an adviser or lawyer in what will essentially become a full-on trial that colleges are not necessarily trained to handle. It also creates a narrower definition of sexual assault, referring to it as an act “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity.” This will make the line between what is and is not considered sexual assault blurrier and effectively harder to prove in this new courtroom-type setting. In essence, these new proposals set forth a rhetoric that aligns with the air of doubt so often attributed to sexual assault survivors. The Michigan Daily Editorial Board opposes the new proposals and urges the University to continue to support survivors in the face of these changes.
Most at stake with the new proposals is the fact that the University not only has a recent history of sexual assault cases but the existing investigation process, though comprehensive, has flaws in implementation. New proposals would build upon an already unstable investigation process. Just recently, the University has faced several sexual assault cases. Samuel Schultz, a New York-based baritone, accused School of Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels and Daniels’s husband Scott Walters of sexual assault. Daniels has taken a leave of absence from the University but still denies the allegations. An investigation is active but no arrests have been made, according to The Daily. In another instance, a senior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance reported being sexually assaulted by her Graduate Student Instructor. As highlighted by The Daily, the student’s experience with the current Title IX reporting process was tedious and slow. These are just a handful of the known Title IX cases that have occurred at the University. We can only imagine how many more instances like this have affected students across campus.
The new Title IX rules will also essentially make schools less liable for sexual assault charges. Under the new proposal, schools are only responsible for investigating if they have “actual knowledge” of the assault, meaning a formal complaint would have to be correctly reported to the right person or group to take care of the claim. Not only does this inhibit the reporting procedure, but the requirement of “actual knowledge” inherently casts doubt on those who come forward.
In a similar affront to reporting procedures, schools are no longer required to deal with off-campus assaults—where 68 percent of the student body lives— and where many sexual assaults may occur. Survivors must also prove their case through “clear and convincing evidence,” making proof of sexual assault elevated to a higher caliber. This is in stark contrast to the lower evidentiary level established by President Barack Obama's administration. With the ease of liability, the new provisions could make the investigating procedure more difficult for survivors and also further deter universities from taking action. This is unsurprising, given the amount of time and money that goes into a sexual assault investigation, and the damage it can do to a school’s reputation. Instead of supporting sexual assault survivors, DeVos, responsible for the true well-being of students, has proactively inhibited the reporting process and effectively introduced proposals espousing a rhetoric and subsequent actions that do the opposite of protecting student’s well-being.
With these new rules close to being enacted, we implore the University, and all other universities and colleges, to hold itself to higher standards. The University owes it to its students, past and future, to keep survivors and students in mind when navigating these cases, and most importantly, safe from harm. For those who have been affected by sexual assault and violence, we encourage you not to be deterred by these rule changes. Your experience matters and your safety is of the utmost importance.
If you have experienced any sort of sexual assault, please visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. We have listed some resources for those in need, including the SAPAC website:
SAPAC homepage: https://sapac.umich.edu
Options for reporting: https://sapac.umich.edu/article/options-reporting
CAPS homepage: https://caps.umich.edu//