On Aug. 14, Southern Utah University enacted updates to its Title IX policy to accommodate changes made by the U.S. Department of Education in May. The updated guidelines may make filing complaints more complicated for victims of sexual assault.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos enacted the new policy to allow all sides of Title IX investigations to access all the presented evidence filed in a case. According to Lucia Maloy, Title IX coordinator for SUU, the policy changes could prove to be more invasive and intimidating than before.
“Some people have reservations because…it might feel like ‘I’m just being laid bare against my attacker again,’” Maloy said.
Maloy was one of the key figures in re-writing and adjusting the school’s Title IX policy. Given approximately a 90-day window, Maloy was tasked with translating the 2,000 pages worth of new regulations into a 30-page university policy.
Maloy served on a sub-committee created by the Utah System of Higher education, which created mock policies for universities across the state. Maloy explained that the process of drafting the policies, which were then sent to be adapted and approved by individual institutions, was intense because of the short time frame.
“This was the most sweeping regulatory change that ever came down to higher education from the Department of Education,” Maloy said.
Under DeVos’ new process, students and faculty interested in filing a formal complaint must now submit a written statement outlining their claims of sexual misconduct.
Once this has been received by the Title IX coordinator, the office begins the investigation by collecting evidence from all parties involved. Due to the new Title IX policy, those accused cannot face any consequence enforced by the university without a formal investigation.
Previously, the Title IX coordinator allowed each party to view and take photos of any evidence in the Title IX office. With the new changes, each party is provided with any evidence compiled by the Title IX office.
Additionally, all parties select an advisor to aid them throughout the hearing process. This advisor can be anyone the individual wants, including an attorney, if the party can afford one and desires representation.
The accused and accuser are not allowed to directly question each other during the live hearing for their case, so advisors are mandated to advocate for them. Maloy said she is to remain impartial as she helps conduct the investigation.
“One of the things that is very, very clear now is this presumption of innocence until a determination of responsibility is made, which means that I can’t issue any remedies or sanctions…until we’ve gone through a process,” Maloy said.
The USDE also redefined sexual harassment, which could cause some formal complaints to be dismissed entirely.
According to the new regulations, certain requirements must be satisfied for a sexual harassment investigation to occur, including, “Unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to University education program or activity…”
“When you have the ‘and,’ you have to meet all three of these [requirements]. If you have the ‘or,’ you only have to meet one of them for it to be sexual harassment,” Maloy said.
When announcing the changes, Secretary DeVos explained in a statement that, “too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault. This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”
Initially, Maloy hoped to obtain student input on the policy, but because students had returned home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she could only receive feedback from SUU Student Body President Nouman Kante.
“Our policy is in compliance, but as we go through and start putting it into play, we might learn things about it that we didn’t know when it was just in theory,” Maloy said. “We’re pioneering right now…In the end, it’s going to be ‘How can we best serve the students and employees and staff of SUU in compliance with the regulations?’”
One SUU student, who requested to remain anonymous for legal purposes, filed a report — but did not request a formal investigation — through Title IX a year ago alleging that another student sexually assaulted her.
She expressed discontent with Secretary DeVos’ new regulations saying they, “gave more rights to the perpetrator, and the victim will be more victimized by this process. It’s not right that the perpetrator gets more rights when it’s already way too hard for people to believe victims.”
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only 23% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Out of those reports, five perpetrators out of 1,000 will face felony conviction, and 4.6 of them will face incarceration.
Maloy encourages students to educate themselves on the new policy, emphasizing the clarified definition of consent. She believes learning what consent is and how it can be given and received is one of the most significant factors in decreasing sexual assault in the first place.
“I’m hoping that it [the new policy] won’t get in the way of people making reports. It would really sadden me to see that the reporting goes down, particularly when we have so many supportive measures that we can offer,” Maloy said.
For those uninterested in filing a formal complaint, the Title IX office offers several supportive resources for anyone who wants to make a report. Individuals may still seek a No Contact Agreement between the parties involved, and receive referrals to local and school therapy services.
While Secretary DeVos aims for the new regulations to benefit all sides of a Title IX investigation, her critics believe the process might add one extra mile for survivors who already find themselves on a difficult run. Looking ahead, Maloy said only time will tell how the new policy will affect the student body.
“If nobody goes to hearing, is it because we’ve made it so hard that they’re not going to go? Or what if we have [an increase] of everybody going to hearing? Around the state as we’ve tried to project this, just nobody knows. We just don’t know,” Maloy said.
Story and Photo by Amanda Walton