Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Title IX processes that address campus sexual assault are undergoing dramatic changes in structure as well as in policy review. After receipt of the Department of Education’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, colleges and universities were impelled to review how their institutions were implementing Title IX. From website information through investigation and decision-making on alleged violations, the ways in which higher education addresses federally guided changes is a matter of national conversation. This article addresses change considering campus sexual assault allegations, and does not explicitly address other forms of Title IX complaints, such as athletic funding and opportunities. This essay limits discussion to sexual harassment and sexual discrimination Title IX claims only, particularly, sexual assault.
The primary topic of ongoing concern is how Title IX investigations and hearing processes are conducted. Review, and in some cases revision, of campus policies was prompted by two interconnected influences. The first was the referenced letter from the Department of Education, and the second was due process and other criticisms raised by those who advocate within the criminal justice framework. This essay explores the impact that criminal law and criminal lawyers have had on Title IX processes. Part of this exploration will include the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s recommendations on how Title IX sexual harassment complaints should be handled. Unknown at the time of this writing is whether the administration will be influenced by these recommendations, although to date it has not. As of this publication, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, met with representative survivors and their advocates, as well as those who claim to have been wrongfully accused. The Secretary also accepted comments on deregulation, which included a review of Title IX regulations. The proposed regulation review was part of the administration’s “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” We can anticipate change, although when and what change is undetermined now. To date, the primary action taken by Secretary DeVos was the rescission of the Obama Era “Dear Colleague” letter discussed early in this article. Incorporated throughout this discussion are the changes, as well as the complications, that develop when the Title IX process is viewed through a criminal justice lens. Particularly explored, is how stereotypes regarding women’s credibility forms the foundation of challenges faced by survivors of sexual assault who seek relief. The last section of this essay addresses proposed recommendations to address the needs of those accused as well as protecting the harmed student.
More changes from the Secretary of Education are expected, which makes consideration of the concerns addressed in this article vital.