Title IX changes for 2020

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Within the past six months, Title IX rules have been changed by the Department of Education, trickling down to policy changes at Hamline.

Anika Besst, Senior Reporter
October 21, 2020

Betsy Devos, the nation’s 11th and current Secretary of Education finalized changes to the Title IX rules on May 6, 2020. These changes were put into effect Aug. 14, only a little over three months after it was announced. 

Title IX is a federal mandate protecting students and employees in school settings from sexual discrimination. It was first introduced in June of 1972 as part of the Education Amendments Act established the same year, stating: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

These 2020 changes have been part of a nearly three-year process of evaluation and feedback since the withdrawal from the Obama administration’s Title IX policies in 2017. Because Hamline receives federal funding, Title IX changes means changes at Hamline.

“All of the accommodations and supports are still in place. When I think about accommodations and supports, those are written into policy too, but it is about supporting [students],” said Patti Klein-Kersten, VP student affairs, Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator.

The definition of what is classified as sexual harassment under Title IX is now: “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to education,’ which is seen as much narrower of a classification. Sexual harassment now includes stalking, domestic violence and dating violence as well. These do not have to meet the previously stated requirements. 

A large modification made to these new rules is that institutions must work under the presumption that anyone accused is innocent throughout the process to ensure both those reporting and accused get due process of law. This was something that the Obama administration faced criticism over as some believed the prior rules resulted in overenforcement of policies and an increase in false accusations. The recent changes have faced opposition that these regulations increase protection for those accused, whether it be students or employees.

The new rules now obligate postsecondary educational institutions to hold live hearings. These live hearings are held by officials from the school and are required to allow cross-examination of both parties and any witnesses by advisers. Additionally, evidence can now be held to the standard of “clear and convincing” versus a “preponderance of evidence,” making what ultimately counts as evidence much harder to achieve. 

Betsy Devos described these rules in a tweet as a way to, “balances the scales of justice.”

“We used to do live hearings in any student conduct matter… Then we moved to this review process… [as that became a] best practice to not do these live hearings. The easiest thing to say is the pendulum has kind of turned on that with the Department of [Education] saying this is how it has to be,” Klein-Kersten said. “I do have concerns that a live hearing can be very difficult for all parties involved. I just think it is very difficult to sit down in front of a group of people and have to respond on the spot in that kind of way and be cross-examined.” 

Schools are also now only obligated by law to cover reports of sexual harassment on campus and off-campus only if the location is officially recognized and affiliated with the school somehow. Study abroad options which are no longer part of the school’s Title IX responsibility by law. Institutions have the freedom to cover events themselves as they choose. 

These new regulations are widely opposed by activists and advocates for survivors of sexual violence who believe the new policies could stifle people’s comfort in reporting sexual violence and result in fewer people coming forward.

“Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have shown, once again, that they have no interest in supporting student survivors and their rights. The final rule makes it harder for survivors to report sexual violence, reduces schools’ liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment and creates a biased reporting process that favors respondents and schools over survivors’ access to education,” said Sage Carson, the manager of a national advocacy group for those of sexual violence, Know Your IX. “All this as students struggle to find housing, keep up with online classes and pay rent as the unemployment rate soars.”

With these changes, Hamline is still committed to supporting community members. 

“We want to [first] work to prevent, but if something does happen we want to be able to be here and available and support all of our community members; students, faculty and staff, in regards to being able to work through and resolve incidents,” Klein-Kersten said. 

Since their first compliance on Aug.14th, Hamline has undergone revisions to its Title IX policy. Click here for more information and resources about the school’s specific procedures and rules. 

Note: With any of this, the term parties refers to the different people involved in the case, the complainant is someone to file a report and the respondent is the person alleged to have done something.

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