Concerns over new Title IX regulations raise questions for UC policy

In November 2018, the Department of Education released new regulatory proposals to Title IX. According to the press release the “proposed rule seeks to ensure that all schools clearly understand their legal obligations under Title IX and that all students clearly understand their options and rights.” However, Betsy DeVos and the department, through notice and comment, (a process by which citizens can voice their opinions or concerns to different departments within the federal government) have faced immense scrutiny. In response to the changes, 16,376 people submitted comments to the department of education.

This past January was the comment filing period, and student advocates for Planned Parenthood went around UCR classrooms to hand out cards to students with information regarding how to comment on the proposed Title IX rule changes, even providing a link that as of the publishing date appears not to work. Planned Parenthood stands in opposition to the proposed rule changes as they feel the changes “eliminate protections for sexual assault survivors.”

Similar sentiments are held by the UC system, as stated in a letter written to the Department of Education, signed by Janet Napolitano and provided to the Highlander via Brook Chang, director of the Women’s Resource Center, who was unavailable for comment. “UC is deeply troubled that, if issued in their current form, the rules will discourage reporting and participation in the resolution process, and hamper schools’ efforts to prevent, investigate, and redress sexual harassment,” it reads. It goes on to detail the UC’s apprehensions with many of the provisions, including grievance procedures found in section 106.45 of the proposals.

“Here, the rules would prohibit schools from processing complaints under their grievance procedures unless they allege ‘sexual harassment’ in the context of a ‘program or activity’ against a person ‘in the United States.’ This is of significant concern because, as explained above, these requirements are extremely limiting,” the letter reads.

In an interview with the Highlander, Karla Aguilar, UCR’s CARE Director and a California certified sexual assault and domestic violence advocate, said, “For us there’s various areas in that policy that we have a lot of concerns about.” As an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Aguilar sees the proposals as limiting, and may have the potential to affect people’s willingness to come forward about their or others’ situations.

“A lot of the time what we find is that folks who come to an office to seek out support or are experiencing danger don’t even define it as sexual harassment; they don’t know the language, if it fits into that policy,” said Aguilar. “So a narrowing of those definitions is problematic because then you have cases where survivors who are experiencing some type of violence maybe don’t meet the threshold for a response or adjudication and that leaves out an entire population of survivors who are trying to seek support on campus.”

Quoted in the Department of Education’s press release, DeVos said, “Far too many students have been forced to go to court to ensure their rights are protected because the Department has not set out legally binding rules that hold schools accountable for responding to allegations of sexual harassment in a supportive, fair manner.”

However, Aguilar contests the idea that the new rules would lessen the burden on the justice system, and feels that narrowing the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment would negatively affect people’s ability to go through the Title IX process on campus. “They don’t want to go out into the criminal process because they don’t want to put someone in jail, they just want to feel safe on campus,” said Aguilar.

The period to submit notice and comment is now over, but it is unclear whether the historically unprecedented amount of feedback will impact the regulatory proposals.

For sexual harassment and sexual violence concerns, UCR’s Title IX Office can be contacted at (951) 827-7070 or titleix@ucr.edu, the Women’s Resource Center can be contacted at (951) 827-3337 and the CARE Office can be contacted at (951) 827-6225 or advocate@ucr.edu.

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