Occidental Title IX office looks to fight proposed Department of Education changes

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Title IX Coordinator, Jennifer Broomfield, discusses recent changes in legislation and its impact at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Sam Orlin/The Occidental

Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos revealed her proposal for an overhaul of the current rules governing campus sexual assault under Title IX Nov. 16. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register Nov. 29, starting a 60-day public comment period during which individuals, organizations and institutions will have the opportunity to submit comments and suggestions for revision. Among the DOE’s proposed changes is the requirement for schools to hold live hearings where both defendants and complainants could cross-examine each other through an adviser or lawyer. According to Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield, this change, if finalized, would effectively replace the single investigator model that has become common at many colleges, including Occidental.

Broomfield issued an email to the Occidental community Nov. 16 summarizing the content and timeline of the potential changes and issued another email Nov. 29 to announce the regulations published by the DOE and how to comment on the new regulations as an individual. Broomfield said that the changes were not final, and indicated that the Title IX Office was involved and invested in amending the propositions made by the DOE.

“Occidental, as an institution, will submit comments, but I strongly encourage anyone interested in this important process to do so as well,” Broomfield said via email Nov. 29.

According to Broomfield, comments can be submitted via mail or online. After the comment period concludes on Jan. 28, 2019, the DOE will take a period of time to review all comments, make changes and publish the final rule. Broomfield said she is hopeful that policy won’t be published for another 12–18 months.

“Most schools are going to have to do some policy revision, so we would hope they would give us a significant amount of time to do that policy revision and train people who may need to be trained,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield announced two Q&A sessions Nov. 29: one occurred Dec. 4 and a second to occur after winter break to discuss the proposed regulations and comment period with the Title IX Office and Project Sexual Assault Free Environment (SAFE) Senior Manager and Survivor Advocate Marianne Frapwell.

“There’s a lot of what ifs, and I understand that this can be a very concerning time for students to not know what it’s going to look like,” Broomfield said. “We’ve had this policy in place for two years now with a very specific model, and most people have become very aware of what that model is. There will be a lot of work to do.”

There are a number of changes in the published regulations from the DOE, such as requiring a formal notice of charges from the Title IX Office to the respondent and complainant, that reflect practices Occidental already incorporated into their policy, Broomfield said. Occidental will continue to use the preponderance of evidence standard, which values more convincing evidence over quantity of evidence.

Frapwell said she is specifically concerned about the requirement for in-person cross-examination and the relaxation of the time limit in which to complete investigations.

“[These changes] could have a chilling impact on a student’s willingness to report and the safety of the process for those who have experienced trauma,” Frapwell said via email. “In the worst case scenario, I believe that we, like all other colleges and universities, will not be able to provide a safe and equitable educational environment for all our students.”

According to Project SAFE Programming Assistants Caroline Parker (sophomore) and Neah Bois (senior), the proposed changes could cause the Title IX process to be less trauma-informed, causing more students to potentially reach out to Project SAFE instead of going through the Title IX process. Parker and Bois said this would be particularly challenging considering Project SAFE’s lack of staffing.

To be honest, the way we understand the proposed changes is really scary. Proposals that limit the scope of Title IX’s jurisdiction, such as behavior that occurs at off-campus house parties, could profoundly affect a campus like ours,” Parker and Bois said via an email statement.

According to Frapwell, the previously existing Prevention Education Specialist position in Project SAFE was funded by a federal grant through the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). The grant was not refunded, so the position was discontinued.

“If this continues, Project SAFE will be seriously impaired in its ability to provide comprehensive and sustainable prevention education programs to the student body,” Frapwell said.

Despite the proposed changes and recent shifts in funding, Frapwell, Parker and Bois emphasized the dedication of Project SAFE to continue providing education, advocacy and support around sexual violence on campus.

“Project SAFE will continue to provide comprehensive, inclusive and empowerment-based support to survivors for as long as we can and in whatever ways we can,” Frapwell said. “We will never stop advocating for survivors and those impacted by trauma to have access to support, resources and a care system who believes them.”

According to Broomfield, in the past year, the Title IX office has constructed several workgroups, surveys and committees to improve their practices, including the queer and transgender task force, gender equity in athletics committee, campus climate survey and the recently assembled Campus Committee on Sexual Responsibility and Misconduct (CCRSM) crafted specifically for reviewing the DOE Title IX regulations and preparing for potential policy revision. The CCRSM will meet for the first time Dec. 4.

“I believe we have always protected the due process rights of respondents while at the same time trying to be as trauma-informed as we can in helping complainants feel comfortable with coming forward,” Broomfield said. “We will make sure that, whatever we are required to do by law, we’ll still maintain that balance.”

Occidental has on-campus confidential resources in place that can be found on the Title IX website.