Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault
The 50th anniversary of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1972 on June 23, 2022, was marked by emotional turmoil for many. A great win for the students of America was immediately followed by the disheartening Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which largely overshadowed the triumphs and failures of the Biden administration’s proposed changes to Title IX regulation.
Thousands of students have been waiting for fair and protective legislation since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. And yet, the administration chose to wait an entire year and a half — in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX — to release their edits to Betsy DeVos’s problematic regulation. This might just be the largest failure of Biden’s proposed edits, as students across the country suffer through court examination-induced trauma, victim blaming and inactive Title IX coordinators.
One of the most anticipated additions to Title IX policy is the inclusion of off-campus assaults. While current regulations do not require institutions to address harassment that occurred off-campus or outside of the United States, the proposed regulation would demand action for any “conduct that occurs in any building owned or controlled by a student organization” and “conduct that occurs off-campus when the respondent is a representative of the recipient.” While it seems impossible that students have gone without this protection for so long, this addition is a large step toward victim protection — a running theme in Biden’s updates.
Another such edit comes in the form of “permitting but not requiring live hearings,” which differs from the DeVos regulation’s requirement of live hearings and cross-examinations. The burden of the current regulations falls entirely on the victim. A Western Michigan University student laid out the choice before her, stating that “she could go to a hearing and let the male students she had accused of sexually assaulting her ask her questions, trying to discredit her. Or she could decline to attend and watch them walk away without any punishment.” Beyond the horrifying expectation of a cross-examination, the requirement of a live hearing and further trauma from recounting one’s own assault in front of one’s attacker could very well be part of the reason that sexual assault has an incredibly low reportability.
It is hard to predict whether the removal of a large obstacle from an already traumatic process will increase reportability on campuses, but an increase in reports could result in pressure on universities to take responsibility and address the growing concern of sexual misconduct on and off campus.
Unfortunately, the process of filing a Title IX complaint is still fraught with traumatic experiences and long waiting periods — neither of which are appropriately addressed by the proposed changes. Between conflicting evidence, unfiled information, feeling unheard and disappointing policy restrictions, re-trauma is a common side effect of undergoing the Title IX process and these issues must be addressed before we can truly claim to be a just community.
Trauma-informed legal work and professional care advocates are the bare minimum that should be expected from each university’s Title IX office to ensure that the Title IX claim process is as comfortable and empowering as it is meant to be. However, accountability for educational institutes is just as important as protecting victims for sex discrimination regulation to be effective.
While the proposed changes do touch on the expectation for Title IX coordinators “to take prompt and effective action to end any sex discrimination in its education program or activity,” (complete with a detailed list of procedures), the power to dismiss or distort claims still lies in the hands of a single Title IX coordinator. This is an issue because many Title IX coordinators across the nation are mere placeholders that allow uncaring institutions to fly past flimsy enforcement. A 2018 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that “most Title IX coordinators were in part-time positions with less than three years of experience,” indicating disinterest on the part of the institutions involved.
It is clear that while the Biden administration has righted several wrongs in the sexual misconduct law that all students rely on, we are far from receiving the care and justice we deserve. Nonetheless, June 23, 2022, should go down in history for taking American students a step closer to a safe educational experience.
Reva Lalwani is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.
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