Image by Shannon Boland
On Sept. 7, 2017, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the repealment of the Obama Era Title IX guidelines, creating a sense of uncertainty on how college campuses would be affected. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in schools and legally requires institutions to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault. It is immensely important to the well-being of college students.
The DeVos Administration repealed the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence, both of which prompted campuses to conduct more timely investigations of assault. Before the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, there was no required timeline for schools to complete assault investigations, which made it easier for institutions to put accusations of assault on the backburner. The 2011 doctrine implemented the guideline that investigations must be completed by schools within 60 days.
The new guidelines give schools the option to set a clear and convincing standard of evidence for assault cases – a more rigorous standard that increases the burden of proof on survivors.This means that assault would have to be proven substantially more likely to be true than untrue, which is difficult for the many cases of harassment and assault that have “he said/she said” based evidence. They also give schools the option to remove the 60 day requirement for investigation completion, which could potentially cause investigations to drag on for months, even years.
The new guidelines allow the accused to cross-examine their accusers during the investigative process. This would be particularly detrimental to reporting, as survivors of assault already face a lot of disbelief and victim blaming when coming forward, and this would be an added stress.These parameters give schools the opportunity to settle cases of assault with informal mediation. Informal mediation would result in the accuser and the accused sitting down with a third party to reach a resolution; a solution that can be traumatizing to survivors.
In response to the DeVos Administration’s actions, University of California (UC) Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Kathleen Salvaty, who only served as UCLA’s Title IX Coordinator, assured that UC Title IX policies will remain unchanged. Salvaty released a statement saying that “system-wide policies and procedures on sexual violence and sexual harassment remain in full effect.” In particular, the state of California has codified the “standard of preponderance” into law, which means that the standard of evidence for cases of sexual assault and harassment will not change on California campuses.
Although the increased standard of evidence will not apply to UCLA students, many have expressed concern over the message the DeVos Administration has sent to college campuses. Dani Lowder, a sophomore Legislative Advocate in the External Vice President’s Office of USAC, believes that the new policies in our federal government may keep survivors from coming forward. “If students don’t believe their cases are being taken seriously [by the federal government], they won’t feel comfortable coming forward,” said Lowder.
While the changing national guidelines are troublesome, Lowder and her fellow legislative advocates are confident in the resources that UCLA provides, saying that “UCLA Title IX guidelines have gone above and beyond to protect students.” UCLA’s Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) program provides many confidential resources for survivors of sexual assault, dating, domestic violence, and stalking. It also offers workshops and training to educate UCLA students on sexual assault prevention.
Chandni Patel, a liaison for the CARE Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (VIP), shares a similar sentiment saying,“there are some amazing people at UCLA trying their absolute best to provide the help that they’re capable of giving to survivors. I’ve had the honor meeting some of those people personally through my experiences with CARE’s VIP program. I think there’s always more to be done.”
According to the UCLA Police Department’s 2017 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, in the 2016 school year alone, 24 cases of on-campus sexual assault were reported. Given that 90% of college assault survivors do not report to the police, these 24 cases are a startling reminder that even in opposition to the DeVos Administration’s Title IX changes, there is still more progress to be made in assault prevention and survivor support at UCLA.
It is important to note that UCLA has a history with inadequately addressing cases of sexual assault with its own staff. During winter quarter of last year, Gabriel Piterberg, a history professor, returned to UCLA despite sexually harassing two of his graduate students. Piterberg was given a grossly insufficient punishment for his behavior, only having to pay a $3000 fine and serving a meager 11 week suspension. In spite of protests and outrage from many students, Piterberg continues to teach graduate classes as of Winter 2017. The fact that Piterberg continues to hold a faculty position is a clear display of UCLA disregarding sexual assault and harassment on campus, and ignoring the irreparable damage student survivors have to live with. This selective enforcement of Title IX policy on campus is unacceptable and shows that our institution’s support of survivors of assault is in need of improvement. UCLA needs to hold its own staff accountable and assert its support for survivors by enforcing strict punishments for offenders, and making resources for survivors more accessible.
While there are already many resources for UCLA students, the awareness of these programs could also be improved. However, finding a way to reach out to all 31,000 UCLA undergraduates is not an easy task. Chandni Patel acknowledges that the “disbursement of information” to students is lacking, and is one way that we can improve our campus climate.
Patel says that “what could be done to help people find the information they need is to have more visibility for the offices that provide resources for students, like highlighting links to webpages where the information is available on commonly visited sites or making sure that mass emails, newsletters, etc. publish links or information. I also think it would be wonderful if we could utilize and expand the CARE VIP program to get more people on campus involved in actively learning about how domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking affect our campus and what they can do to be part of a solution.”
Other students, like the University of California Student Association (UCSA), have responded to the changing federal Title IX guidelines by advocating for more legal protections for college students. On Nov. 29, the UCSA organized a Title IX day across all UC Campuses to raise awareness for Bill HR4030 by having students call their representatives. Bill HR4030, also known as the Title IX Protection Act, is a bill proposed in Congress that would codify previous Title IX guidelines that were repealed by Secretary DeVos and make them federal law.
Even with no immediate changes coming to UCLA’s enforcement of Title IX Policy, it is critical that we create a campus environment where students feel supported in this time of uncertainty. Improving the scope of UCLA’s Title IX resources is not only crucial to our current campus climate, but to the thousands of future Bruins who will one day take our place. As EVP Legislative Advocate, Dani Lowder stated: “We may not be in college for much longer but there are thousands of students who will come after us, and they deserve to feel safe.”