Editor's Note: This article was updated to correct a source's last name.
Spiders Against Sexual Assault and Violence created a petition urging the University of Richmond administration to make policy adjustments in response to the changes recently made to Title IX by the Department of Education, which are known as the Title IX Final Rule.
The Change.org petition, published on June 29, proposes 10 changes to UR policy and asks the administration to publicly commit to the revisions by July 10. SASAV president and rising junior Sam Mickey said she would close the petition on the same date. As of 12 p.m. on July 10, there are 453 signatures.
The 10 changes proposed by SASAV mentioned in the petition include UR establishing clear guidelines for live Title IX hearings, clear interpretation of the revised definition of sexual harassment, separate reporting and investigation policy for off-campus sexual misconduct and maintaining the preponderance of evidence standard, meaning decisions should be made based on the most likely or convincing evidence presented, in all Title IX related cases.
The petition said that the Final Rule, endangered BIPOC, international and LGBTQIA+ communities' right to equal access to education. The Final Rule creates concerns that survivors of sexual misconduct will be further deterred from coming forward, according to the petition.
“Consistent with the harmful rhetoric and anti-survivor ideology Secretary DeVos has brought to the Department, the [Final] Rule contains dangerous provisions that go against best practices, tip the scales against survivors, and jeopardize students’ civil right to an education free from discrimination,” the petition said.
The policy changes listed in the petition were discussed in depth in the official 38-page proposal SASAV sent to the UR administration on June 29, Mickey said.
Because the Final Rule went through the formal notice-and-comment review process, in which the DOE's Office of Civil Rights reviewed over 124,000 comments made primarily by advocacy groups, it is backed by law, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Although Mickey had expected the Final Rule to be put in place this year, she said she had not expected for it to be released this spring amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I'm very upset that they released it when they did because it's very clear that they're using COVID and the racial justice movements going on right now as a distraction,” Mickey said.
In 2017, DeVos rescinded President Barack Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which had established the preponderance of evidence standard. Under the Final Rule, colleges will have the option to use the clear and convincing evidence standard instead of the preponderance of evidence standard, thus creating a higher standard for evidence that can be used, according to the Association of Student Conduct Administration.
The preponderance of evidence standard is when proof of an investigation is met the fact finder is persuaded that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true, according to Cornell Law School. The clear and convincing evidence standard is more rigorous than the preponderance of evidence standard because it must prove that the claim under investigation is more likely than not true, according to Cornell Law.
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Two of the parts of the Final Rule that SASAV members are most concerned with are the requirement for live sexual misconduct hearings and allowing for cross-examination of those involved in the case, said Mickey and SASAV vice president and rising junior Esmeralda Castillo. Statements that are not cross-examined are not counted as evidence, according to the DOE's summary of the Final Rule. The live hearings and cross-examinations raise concerns of re-traumatizing victims and further discouraging survivors to come forward, Mickey and Castillo said.
The Final Rule also changes what institutions are legally responsible for when responding to claims of sexual misconduct, according to the DOE's summary. Institutions are responsible for sexual harassment that occurs during an institution’s education program or activity and in the United States, according to the summary. Therefore, UR will not have to be legally accountable for sexual misconduct that occurs during activities not affiliated with the school or during study abroad, even if the misconduct is between two UR students, Castillo said.
Although Castillo said she would like to believe that UR would be supportive of survivors who come forward to report sexual assault, she said survivors could not trust that. Many survivors are already too intimidated by the reporting process, which Castillo said she saw when she went through it herself after being sexually assaulted. SASAV wants UR to commit to still treating the reports as if they had to legally address them, Castillo said.
“[UR administration has] to adopt that definition of sexual harassment, but they can also add to it," said Castillo, who also said that UR can specify which scenarios students would be protected in.
Higher education institutions must comply with the Final Rule's new regulations by Aug. 14, according to the American Council on Education. UR's Title IX office has not released an official statement about the new policies as of this article's publication.
SASAV worked with Know Your Nine, a sexual assault prevention advocacy group, to come up with the proposed policy changes in the petition, Mickey said. Peer sexual misconduct advisor and sexual response prevention coordinator Kaylin Tingle and English professor Elizabeth Outka also read over the proposal, Mickey said.
Castillo said it was hard to get people to care about the Title IX changes, especially as students could get lost in the wording of the policies and it could be difficult to discern the implications the policies have.
The new campus organization GirlUP, which focuses on social issues and gender equality, has worked with SASAV to push back against the Final Rule, GirlUP member Ngan Bui said. In addition to encouraging people to sign the petition, GirlUP sent an email to Kristen Osenga, the then-Faculty Senate president, urging the senate to reject the new Title IX regulations among other requests, including establishing an Africana Studies Department and increasing access to the city of Richmond for students without cars, Bui said.
Osenga responded on July 3 and wrote that she would forward Bui's message to all relevant faculty groups and the next senate president, according to Osenga's email which was obtained by The Collegian.
“Instead of just the student body advocating for something, it will be helpful if the faculty will also unite with us, pushing forward and urging the administration to do the same,” Bui said.
After SASAV sent its official policy proposal to UR, deputy Title IX coordinator Tracy Cassalia asked to schedule a meeting with SASAV, Mickey said. Mickey plans on holding a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the changes and amplify students’ thoughts and voices on the issue once the fall semester begins. SASAV also plans to continue creating graphics to post to social media to help inform and educate students, Mickey and Castillo said.
Confidential on-campus resources for survivors of sexual violence are the PSMAs, CARE Advocates, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of the Chaplaincy.
Non-confidential resources include Title IX deputy coordinators, the University of Richmond Police Department, the Office of Common Ground and the Westhampton College and Richmond College deans' offices.
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