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Title IX office talks impact of proposed federal guidelines

Town hall discusses how potential Title IX changes may affect U. policies, procedures

The Undergraduate Council of Students, Brown NARAL and the Title IX Office hosted a town hall to discuss the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed Title IX guidelines Thursday evening.

Title IX Program Officer Rene Davis gave a presentation to students on what the changes could mean for how the University investigates instances of sexual misconduct under Title IX. Davis also outlined how students could provide feedback on the changes — which have not yet been implemented — to the DOE and the University.

According to Davis, the proposed rules mandate certain procedural changes related to hearing policies and cross-examinations, which drew student concern.

Under the guidelines, hearings for all involved parties would be required to determine culpability under Title IX rules. At a live hearing, any party would have the right to cross-examine the other party, Davis said.

A party advisor performs the cross-examination and can be a lawyer, which Davis says could cause inequities, as not every student may be able to hire a private lawyer. The cross-examinations are technically voluntary, but if a party decides not to participate, none of their contributions will be considered by a hearing panel, Davis said.

Certain information can be excluded from the cross-examination, including “the complainant’s sexual behavior or predisposition,” unless this information is pertinent to the investigation, the guideline reads.

The University uses paper cross-examinations in their Title IX processes, Davis said.

In addition to these procedural changes, the DOE also proposed narrowing the scope of incidents considered sexual misconduct in its guidelines, Davis said.

Sexual harassment and assault, as defined by the guidelines, must be objectively severe enough to deny a student equal access to University facilities and academics.

“What ‘equal access’ means is a little murky,” Davis said, explaining that different universities will mostly likely adopt different interpretations of the term.

Davis is in the process of increasing awareness of the proposed guidelines, which were released by the DOE  Nov. 16.

The regulations are currently under a 60-day comment period, which means that anyone can send comments to the DOE with their suggestions or opinions.

The University was already going to review its Title IX policies as this is the third year that current policies have been in place. Before the end of the semester, Davis will hold at least two other community forums about the guidelines. The University will also send a form to students to allow them to voice specific concerns about the DOE guidelines, as well as give general feedback about the University’s Title IX process, Davis said.

Still, Davis urged students to try to provide feedback on the guidelines directly to the DOE in addition to the University. The federal deadline for public comments is Jan. 28 at 11:59 P.M.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the federal deadline for public comments is Jan. 29 at 11:59 P.M. In fact, it is Jan. 28 at 11:59 P.M. The Herald regrets the error. 

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