By Samantha Storms
Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor
Universities will be allowed to choose between two standards of proof in determining the outcome of Title IX cases after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reversed an Obama-era policy on Friday, Sept. 22.
That policy required colleges and universities to use the lowest standard of proof in deciding whether or not a student is guilty of sexual misconduct.
The rescindment will allow universities to decide between that standard – a model of preponderance of evidence – or a “clear and convincing” standard of proof in determining the outcome of cases of sexual misconduct on their campuses. The latter, stricter standard for judicial processes requires a significantly larger and stronger amount of evidence from an accuser to successfully conclude if another student is guilty of sexual misconduct.
The Division of Student Affairs (DSA) explained in an emailed statement that the university will continue their judicial policy of adhereing to the preponderance of evidence, or ‘more likely than not’ standard.
“We remain committed to our comprehensive program, which is designed to protect all members of our community and which provides for a full and fair process for adjudicating any complaints that arise,” the statement said.
The decision to revoke the previous policy, according to Secretary DeVos, will allow for a better balance between the rights of the accused and their accusers. Regarding DeVos’ decision, the Department of Education has outwardly criticized the Obama administration’s previous guidance to colleges in handling cases of sexual misconduct, claiming the policy ignored the basic principles of justice and encouraged unfairness.
In a statement, Secretary DeVos said, “This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly.” She attested that the previous policy was a direct threat to the rights of the accused who, she emphasized, were entitled to a more equitable judicial process. However, not everyone agrees with her decision.
Lola Solis, a junior women’s studies, history and political science major, believes that faculty and administration need to work harder to ensure a trusting and safe environment for students dealing with issues of sexual misconduct.
“I think that DeVos’ decision to reverse the Title IX policy is going to have an incredibly negative impact on students – especially victims of sexual assault,” Solis said. “This decision is sending a message to victims that their stories and experiences don’t matter, which is extremely dangerous.”
Solis emphasized the need for universities to communicate more openly with their students and to recognize the importance of an open and transparent dialogue.
“Hofstra should definitely do more than send an email out to students – we had a lot of issues last semester with Title IX, including the fact that we weren’t even told about how our previous Title IX coordinator left,” she said. “There are a lot of trust issues between students and the administration handling Title IX here and an email is simply not enough to fix it.”
The emailed statement from DSA said, “Our mission as an educational institution requires that we create a safe environment that celebrates equality, inclusiveness and respect for each other and for the law. We will continue our steadfast efforts to educate and prevent discrimination and assault as well as investigate and if necessary adjudicate claims fairly and with integrity.”
Other students fear that the revocation will allow for an increase in the number of unrectified Title IX cases on their campuses.
“I’ve been through sexual assault and a lot of my friends have been through incidents of that. It’s very important to have a system in place that is there to provide support for victims,” said Helen Porksova, a junior economics and English major. “It allows their voices to be heard, because a lot of times they’re just too scared to speak up. There has to be consequences for people’s actions – you can’t just get away with something that scars a person for their entire life.”
An anonymous source fears the termination of the policy on other campuses could possibly affect security, emphasizing the ability this change has to impact the everyday student experience.
“As someone that went through a Title IX case myself, I think that what’s in place for students now is really important. To know that’s getting taken away scares me because had they not been there, I would not have come forward with what happened to me and I wouldn’t have gotten the necessary help that I got last year,” the source said.
While several institutions have already rejected DeVos’ revocation of this policy, it is unclear to what extent the change in policy will affect future cases of sexual assault on college campuses.