A regulation introduced last May amends Title IX–the federal civil rights law established in 1972 that ensures students have fair access education regardless of sex. Under US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s changes, schools must have sexual assault policies in place that are compliant by August 14th.
The national nonprofit NASPA’s Culture of Respect initiative offers technical support and guidance to educational institutions for developing Title IX compliant sexual assault polices. Program coordinator Jennifer Henkle says victim rights advocates are concerned about a rule under the new regulation that allows a representative for an accused assailant to question the accuser.
“For those who understand trauma and understand the experiences that survivors may have gone through, to have to bring that up in a room and to answer these questions, can have a very lasting impact,” Henkle says.
Henkle says many schools may need to make changes to their policies and hire new staff; however, they’ve had just three months to comply.
“Institutions are filing these lawsuits, and states are filing these lawsuits saying ‘hey, this isn’t enough time. We need more time to be able to do this and do this well,'” Henkle explains. “It’s not about just implementing all these changes, which are robust, it’s about doing it in the right way. Schools ultimately do want right by their students, and that is really hard to do when you have to do something quickly in the middle of a pandemic.”
Last month, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul joined a lawsuit with 16 other states and the District of Columbia to block the rule change. The lawsuit says the Title IX changes create barriers to investigation of sexual harassment and discourages students from making complaints. It also calls the timeline impractical for the amount of work required–especially impractical during a pandemic.
According to the lawsuit, the rules would weaken Title IX protections and chill reporting. They would narrow the scope of sexual harassment that a school must respond to. Under the changes, sexual assaults investigations against former students would be thrown out, and victims attending post secondary institutions would also be required to be cross examined.
A 2019 survey found that over 25% of undergraduate women and transgender or gender queer UW-Madison students had experienced unwanted sexual contact through force or inability to consent. In a letter to students, staff, and faculty, UW-Madison Chancell0r Rebecca Blank said the school’s current policies on sexual assault addressed many of the new regulations and the university is committed to support survivors.
The UW System Board of Regents will hold a virtual public hearing on July 16 at noon and are accepting written public comment until 5pm. Comments can be submitted here.
Title IX coordinators at multiple UW campuses did not return a request for comment.