Comments on proposed Title IX changes to open again

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

WSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) is re-opening its online submission forms to accept additional responses from students and groups on campus for the proposed changes to Title IX.

Kimberly Anderson, executive director of compliance and OEO, said Title IX is a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational programs.

She said the proposed changes include redefining sexual harassment, how universities respond to complaints of sexual violence, and the type of behavior universities address.

Title IX currently prohibits unwanted sexual conduct and gender-based harassment, Anderson said.

She said the Department of Education for Civil Rights enforced the legality of Title IX by issuing the “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011. The letter provides universities with a set of guidelines addressing sexual violence complaints.

Anderson said the letter failed to provide a firm definition of sexual harassment.

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 often overlapped with Title IX, she said. The act financed investigations on violent crimes committed against women. The act is expected to expire this month due to a lack of federal funding.

Anderson said WSU falls within national statistics of sexual assault. Roughly one in five women and one in 16 men will experience attempted or completed sexual assault while in college, she said.

The number of reported sexual assault cases is lower than the number experienced, and the number of investigations on sexual assault are lower than the amount reported, Anderson said.

She said the OEO received information of 335 incidents related to sex or gender in 2017. The information was gathered from third-hand reports and direct reports. OEO conducted roughly 50 investigations on the incidents, though not all the investigations conducted were based on sexual violence complaints.

Anderson said sexual harassment can be reported through OEO’s online form or during an in-person appointment. Anonymous reports are also accepted.

Those who report an incident of sexual harassment are directed toward resources available on campus.

“If they decide they want an investigation, and they want to share their story, we would craft a notification letter that would go through the alleged perpetrator,” Anderson said. “An investigator would review all information and both parties will have the opportunity to provide witnesses and share evidence.”

Afterward, the OEO investigator will produce a document of their findings, she said. The findings may include different sanctions as it is a case-by-case basis.

Anderson said some cases result in a ruling of insufficient evidence.

Few cases reported are proven false, she said.

“It’s a very rare thing that someone would maliciously or falsely report,” Anderson said. “National statistics say less than roughly 2 percent of reports are false or malicious.”

On average, OEO conducts 20 investigations on sexual violence every semester, she said. Those incidents may include stalking or violence committed against an intimate partner. Roughly half of those investigations result in a hearing.

“There [is] some really specific language in the new code of conduct that outlines some of that,” Anderson said. “That was a concern for us, that there was some level of ambiguity to what qualifies as a harm.”

The proposed changes to Title IX would allow cross-examinations to occur during hearings, she said. Another proposed change would allow schools to refuse to conduct an investigation unless proof of the student’s inability to continue their education is presented.

“Part of the language in the proposed rules is that [the incident] would have to, in fact, have had an impact [on a student,]” she said. “That’s my interpretation of it. We were a little concerned that, in theory, we would have to wait until a harm occurred before we could address conduct.”

Anderson said some of the reasons OEO would not investigate an incident is if the victim refused the investigation, if the incident would result in a legal violation, or if the incident cannot be classified as harassment or assault.

“It’s a rare occasion where someone comes forward and they say they want an investigation and we say we can’t investigate,” she said.

The original comment period ended on Jan. 30. Anderson said the Department of Education received 104,000 comments nationwide.

“Our goal is to prevent harm from occurring to the fullest extent possible,” she said. “Regardless of what changes within the rules or their application, WSU really is committed to addressing this, to preventing sexual violence from occurring and also providing a strong response when it does.”

The department is required to review and address all comments, Anderson said. The proposed changes could take years to implement, and the proposals are subject to change during that time.

More information can be found on the OEO website.