Since the U.S. Department of Education published new regulations for sexual assault on college campuses through Title IX, a law that prohibits discrimination based on sex, the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) has been implementing changes on campus to comply.
With these new regulations, according to Inside Higher Ed and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, “the new regulation will secure due process rights for students who report sexual misconduct and for those accused of it, by requiring colleges to provide live hearings and allowing students’ advisers to cross-examine parties and witnesses involved.”
DeVos added, “Under the new rules, institutions must presume that those accused of sexual misconduct are innocent prior to the investigative and decision-making process,” addressing a repeated criticism of 2011 guidance issued by the Obama administration.
All UCCS student employees must take a new training through Skillsoft that will educate them on the changes and how to implement them in the workplace. Director of Institutional Equity Amanda Allee and OIE Equity Officer Laura Emmot are working to support students with these changes and continue to make safety the main priority.
“The Title IX response has been shaped a lot by that federal guidance and regulations as well as court cases around due process, so when we received this guidance, this essentially carries the weight of law since it’s a federal regulation,” Allee said, regarding how the university is approaching the required implementations.
The main changes involve the terminology used when addressing issues, such as stalking, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence, which are all now considered sexual harassment under Title IX. The other change primarily affects and involves the backing of federal law when addressing any case of sexual harassment on campus.
“The main changes that I think we will see for our campus is the behaviors that we’re holding our campus community responsible for are essentially the same, but the terminology around what those behaviors are has changed pretty dramatically I think,” Allee said. “They much more mirror criminal definitions than we used to use language that was much more policy and administrative, because we were really not a criminal process.”
According to Allee, one of the biggest and most obvious changes is that “nonconsensual sexual intercourse or nonconsensual sexual contact” is now defined as “sexual assault, rape, fondling, incest, statutory rape,” and “intimate partner abuse” is now defined as “dating and domestic violence.”
“There’s a lot of language changes, but fundamentally the behaviors we have always trained our campus community as, we don’t tolerate this, we still continue not to tolerate it.” Allee said.
Allee believes that these words carry certain stereotypes with them, and people have ideas of what they believe to be, for example, rape versus nonconsensual sexual intercourse.
The other prominent change is the process, according to Allee, since the complainant now has a choice between making a report or a formal complaint. “A report is essentially something we maybe receive through a third party or through an individual who just wants [OIE] to know, but not engage in any certain process. If they want to engage in any formal process, then they have to sign what we consider a formal complaint.”
The formal complaint requires the person involved to provide written documentation of the behavior that they experienced. This is signed by the reporting party and becomes an official document. With this formal complaint, there is also a live hearing required under the new regulations.
“Part of our process will look very similar, where they will continue to meet with investigators and do interviews with our investigators like Laura [Emmot], but instead of making a conclusion based at that stage, after Laura has collected information, she will provide a final investigative report, and then it goes to that live hearing model,” Allee said.
In the live hearing, individuals are subject to cross-examination. The individual can provide an advisor of their own choice or the advisor provided by the university, but they cannot ask questions on their own. During this hearing, information provided by the report can be challenged.
There have been concerns expressed about the changes, specifically for reports that comes from off campus. “The Title IX jurisdiction did change in terms of it had to be an incident that occurred in the context of an employment or educational activity on campus and in the U.S.,” Emmot said.
“We, however, as a university and as a system, are still addressing sexual misconduct or discrimination and harassment activities that occurred off-campus, but they may or may not fall under Title IX,” Emmot said. “We’re not leaving anyone out. We recognize, especially at UCCS, being quite the commuter campus, that that’s going to be an issue that we see happen, and we still want to have resolution options for those individuals.”
Allee said there is a great deal of concern in the community that having the hearing process will discourage reporting. “We’re taking a lot of steps to ensure that we are federally compliant, but we don’t want to have a chilling effect on reporting. We are being mindful on how we balance those two things,” Allee said.
OIE, Allee and Emmot’s main concern is student’s safety and their accessibility to report and find resolution.
If someone needs to report something to OIE, Allee is encouraging students to reach out however they feel most comfortable. “They can call us, email us, there’s a form on our website that they can fill out.”
Additionally, a new feature that OIE added to their website is a quick-escape button.“We realize that sometimes when people are searching for things, they might not have the privacy they would like, and so we’ve added that as an option to our website.”
Emmot said, especially with COVID-19 and students being isolated, this quick escape button protects individuals.
For concerns or questions, or if you want to report something relating to sexual harassment, reach out to OIE for help and aid by emailing [email protected] or calling 719-255-4324.