The University sends us a million emails every week. I skip by most of them; the ones that involve FUSA events and the new opera at the Regina A. Quick Center go unread in my inbox. It was only on Sept. 22 that an email Fairfield sent us gave me an actual reaction: the announcement of a Title IX policy update to adhere with a new Department of Education guidance made my stomach drop. If I didn’t like or agree with our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos before, this new measure brings my opinion of her to rock bottom.

The Obama-era Dear Colleague letter stated the need for universities to have a “preponderance of evidence” approach to handle cases of sexual misconduct. The basics of it looked for schools to seek evidence so that it was more likely than not that the accused was guilty. These new guidelines, however, “encourage schools to apply a higher ‘clear and convincing’ standard,” as The Daily Beast reports. This isn’t the same as being tried in a criminal court, but could result in serious consequences for the accused if they are found guilty. It’s also important to note that these guidelines are mandates that aren’t being fully enforced, and that schools are only being highly encouraged, and not required, to uphold these measures. Fairfield, however, is accepting these new policies wholeheartedly. In the email that was sent out, it was stated that the school will be revising its Title IX policy so that it “include[s] all revisions necessary to be in compliance with the new guidance from the Department of Education.”

So I guess I have a bone to pick with both the Secretary of Education and with Fairfield University. I’ve heard too many stories about sexual assault taking place on and off college campus, whether from speakers at my high school to friends of mine. The idea that this policy, which can be found on the Department of Education’s website, lends more leniency to the accused, doesn’t allow victims to appeal a case and makes it harder to prove a sexual misconduct took place, makes me sick to my stomach. Everything has to be taken with a grain of salt and while I don’t believe these new guidelines entirely enable sexual assault to go on freely, I do believe that making it harder to get justice for those who were victimized is not the way to go.

Let me debunk something for those who still have doubt about it: no one, not one person, asks to be sexually assaulted. Nobody comes out to speak about it because of the want for attention, because no one wants to be known as “the person who was sexually assaulted.” I say “person” because woman or man, no one asks for this to happen, and no one comes out to speak about it and goes through the struggle of an investigative case and the judgement of others for attention. As a woman, I want to know that the campus I walk around on is safe, and though I don’t think these guidelines will encourage more assaults to occur, it doesn’t help things, and could set a dangerous precedent for how perpetrators will not be held accountable.

This isn’t even entirely about safety either. This is about the value this University and this country places on sexual assault victims and their traumas, along with women in general. In reference to women on college campuses, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) they “are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence.” The rolling-out of this new policy, whether it was purposeful or not, sends a message that disregards women’s health and safety, and assumes the issue of rape and sexual misconduct on college campuses will sort itself out.

This new Title IX update is disheartening on a number of levels, but mostly in terms of the lack of regard this administration seems to have for women’s well-being. Betsy DeVos’ inability to stand up for the women, specifically the women seeking an education in America, is, frankly, deplorable.

One Response

  1. Jeffrey Deutsch

    The interim Title IX guidance *permits* schools to go to clear and convincing evidence. And it equally *permits* schools to stick with preponderance of the evidence if they so choose.

    As you rightly point out, there are serious consequences to being found guilty. So it’s not necessarily good to make it easier to do that.

    In particular, until and unless the accused is found guilty the other person is an accuser — not necessarily a victim.

    Also, you might have heard about the right against double jeopardy. Accusers shouldn’t get multiple chances to try to get the other person found guilty.

    As for rates of sexual violence — comparing women on campus to women in general — of all ages — is comparing apples to oranges. It’s well known that for various reasons, mid teens to mid 20s is the primary age for sexual assault. But in fact, women of that age at college are less likely than women of that age elsewhere.

    Of course, few people ask to be sexually assaulted. But some people do indeed want the attention that comes (from some quarters anyway) with being an accuser. Criminal profiler Pat Brown, in her book How to Save Your Daughter’s Life, points out that once in a while a girl or woman will even lie and say someone raped her — because she wants attention. (Or revenge, or an excuse for having gotten caught cheating, caught an STD or gotten “in trouble”.)

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