Recent and controversial changes to Title IX have narrowed the amendment’s definition of sexual harassment to only include cases which affect victims’ access to educational programs or activities. On Jan. 30, UGBC signed a letter airing grievances against these alterations to the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Title IX, an amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded programs and activities, was signed into federal law in 1972. Since then, it has been integral to promoting increased equality at a number of institutions, particularly with sexual harassment cases.
The new regulation defines sexual harassment as “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” behavior which “denies a person equal access to the recipient’s (or institution’s) education program or activity.”
Students from universities across the country have expressed concern that changes to this amendment diminish institutions’ obligations to respond a certain way to sexual offenses. The implication of this change is that unless a student’s education has been completely obstructed, an institution is not obligated by law to respond to an incident of harassment.
Moreover, the new version of Title IX calls for this behavior to take place on campus to qualify for investigation by the institution. This is a major hindrance to the pursuit of cases, considering that many students live in off-campus housing, not only at Boston College, but at institutions nationwide.
Additionally, accommodations provided to survivors, such as moving perpetrators out of shared classes or dorms, will no longer be the norm. Instead, survivors will be subject to these changes, which, the letter said, “further victimizes them and disincentives them from utilizing the university resources.” This change undermines the efforts a university ought to take to protect the well-being of survivors and hold students accountable for their actions.
In addition, the number of faculty and employees who are required to respond and report offenses has been narrowed. This poses greater room for “institutional betrayal,” as more cases will go overlooked.
Drastic privacy changes pose another problem with the altered Title IX. All parties will now hold access to “any evidence obtained as a part of the investigation that is directly related to the allegations raised in formal complaint.” This evidence potentially includes confidential data such as medical records, which threatens both identity security and individual privacy.
Live cross-examinations, a traumatic and personally violating mechanism of evaluation, have also been authorized through the new version of Title IX.
These select issues are just a few of the many that minimize institutional accountability and create more detriments than benefits to students who report cases. UGBC, along with student governments from 75 other universities, crafted this letter in support of reevaluating these changes to Title IX which undermine the original spirit and intention of the amendment.
In the era of the #MeToo movement and campaigns illuminating the injustices of sexual harassment and abuse, the student governments who signed the letter said these proposed changes to Title IX regulations mark a step backwards for our nation’s liberty.
In the end, an institution’s ability to protect its students and provide necessary resources following cases of sexual harassment is not just in the interest of the student, but of the institution as well. A 2015 study determined that 34.1% of sexual assault survivors dropped out of college. Not only is this a harmful loss for the student, but a blemish on the reputation and a drawback to the finances of the institution.
Ultimately, the force criticizing these regressive changes to Title IX is both powerful and prevalent on BC’s campus, providing hope that unjust regulations will be rescinded and necessary change will ensue.