VCU says it is too early to comment on pending Title IX changes

Illustration by Steck Von

Logan Reardon

Staff Writer

VCU Equity and Access Services said it is too early to make changes to VCU’s Title IX policy in response to proposed federal changes that would create more protections for those accused of sexual assault, according to a mass email sent out Nov. 16.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded education programs. The law requires these education programs to combat gender-based violence and harassment as well as accommodate survivors of sexual assault to ensure all students have equal access to education.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, released its proposed Title IX changes Nov. 16. Under the proposal, students accused of sexual misconduct will gain greater protections and universities investigating complaints could have less liability.

DeVos said in a statement Nov. 16 the proposed changes’ focus is to ensure “due process” in sexual assault cases, “ensuring that every student can learn in a safe and nurturing environment.”

“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously, and every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said in the statement. “We can, and must, condemn sexual violence and punish those who perpetrate it, while ensuring a fair grievance process. Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. They are the very essence of how Americans understand justice to function.”

Specifics of the proposed changes include giving a person accused of sexual misconduct the right to cross-examine the accuser and limiting a university’s responsibility to cases with formal complaints, as well as incidents that happen only on campus or within an educational program or activity.

VCU said it would not comment on pending legislation but, in the mass email, Equity Director and Title IX Coordinator Laura Rugless said the university will “continue to monitor developments through the federal process and evaluate any potential impact to the university’s Sexual Misconduct/Violence and Sex/Gender Discrimination Policy.” The email specified the federal proposal could still be modified, and they “will make policy changes in the future, if necessary, to comply with the law.”

The ED’s proposal also gives colleges the option of using a higher standard of proof — essentially making victims provide more concrete evidence against the accused. This would also allow colleges to apply a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, meaning undeniable evidence will need to be presented against the accused. This is opposed to the Obama-era Title IX guidelines, which forced colleges to adopt a “preponderance” of evidence standard, which allowed misconduct cases to be ruled based on “more likely than not” scenarios.

The organization Students Active for Ending Rape also issued a statement Nov. 16 calling the ED’s proposed changes “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

“Rather than work to protect our nation’s college students from the epidemic of sexual assault and misconduct, the policy changes announced today by Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration take a giant step backwards,” said Rachel Greenburg, board chair for SAFER. “Their irresponsible effort to roll back the clock in the fight to combat campus-based sexual assault will put college students at even greater risk and is an insult to every sexual assault survivor.”

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