Shamina Merchant, Student Government President of The Ohio State University, and Public Policy senior Daniel Greene, president of Central Student Government, came together to co-sign a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos detailing concerns regarding the Department of Education’s recently proposed Title IX regulations. The suggested policies, released by the Department of Education in November 2018, would require schools to follow new procedures designed to protect the rights of accused students in sexual assault cases and raise the requirements on evidence needed to prove sexual assault claims claims.
The letter, sent to DeVos on Jan. 30, highlighted five key areas of concern in the newly proposed regulations. Greene and Merchant, collectively representing more than 100,000 students, said in the letter they wish to ensure the security and sanctity of students remain a top priority of the Department of Education.
“We were hoping that as two schools that have a national rivalry, we could show that we could put our rivalry aside and join together to write this letter to Secretary DeVos to ensure that our campuses continue to perpetuate a culture of consent and to empower survivors,” Greene said in an interview with The Daily.
Merchant told The Daily the proposed changes are an issue she and Greene are extremely passionate about. The two representatives wanted to bring student voices together at the forefront of the discussion.
“These proposed changes to the Title IX regulations have the potential to impact every one of our students on the campuses that we represent,” Merchant said. “It’s such a critical issue that can drastically change a survivor’s experience when seeking out help.”
The first topic addressed in the letter voiced concerns regarding the definition of sexual harassment as proposed by the regulations. Greene and Merchant were concerned the proposed language might heighten the level of scrutiny of what qualifies as sexual harassment.
“We want to ensure rather than having a survivor forced to feel obligated to show with evidence that a certain level of scrutiny has been achieved is trauma-inducing,” Greene said. “When somebody chooses to disclose, we should assume that they are being faithful and allow for the investigation to find the evidence.”
The second area of concern discussed the proposed regulation’s permittance of in-person examinations. In September, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the University’s sexual misconduct policy must include the option of cross-examination of the student making the accusation. The University revised its policy in October to include an in-person hearing. E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, told the University Record in December student needs are important to the University in such sensitive situations.
“As we comply with the requirements for an in-person hearing, we also have expanded the options and support available to our students impacted by sexual misconduct,” Harper said to the University Record. “The university recognizes that it is important to take into account the needs of students, and offer the most robust set of resources and options as they seek to resolve these sensitive matters.”
Greene and Merchant said in the letter they were concerned students required to participate in a direct cross-examination will be unnecessarily re-traumatized and believe there are other ways in which credibility of the accusation may be established through less harmful means.
“While Shamina and I respect due process, we believe that people should have an opportunity to respond, but it has to be done in a way that protects the survivor,” Greene said. “A survivor who comes forward, which is already a minority of survivors according to recent data, should not have to be directly confronted by the respondents or their perpetrator.”
In a previous interview with The Daily, University President Mark Schlissel explained the administration’s perspective behind implementing cross-examinations. He said the administration now provides students with an option he called the “adaptable resolution,” instead of having to comply with the “investigative resolution,” which is when students would cross-question each other. In the adaptable resolution, the two parties involved with the case are able to talk to an employee of an office in student life. The employee will arbitrate the problem and help the two parties come to a resolution without having to go through a hearing and confrontation.
“It’s kind of like mediation, as opposed to a hearing and an adjudication,” Schlissel said. “The hope is by providing the second pathway, students who did not want to come forward and expose themselves to a hearing might come forward and say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to consider this other way of getting justice here,’ a more negotiated way to get justice. By offering that as an option, we’ll get more students to step forward and ask for help.”
The letter listed the third area of concern as campus jurisdiction. In this section, Greene and Merchant asked the department to clarify what situations are recognized as an “education program or activity.” By not having a clear definition, Greene and Merchant said “institutions could theoretically choose to dismiss accusations of assault or other sexual misconduct involving students or employees who were off-campus at the time.”
“We already know that many of these accusations are happening not in the defined boundaries of campus, but perhaps at off-campus houses that are reasonably in the vicinity,” Greene said. “We hope that in allowing survivors to have that equitable platform to come forward, that the scope would be defined to incorporate things like a fraternity or sorority, anywhere athletes might go, anywhere a student organization may choose to have a social event.”