DeVos’ plan is one step forward, ten steps back

Denise Emerson

UT has a sexual assault problem that is far worse than its due process problem. What to prioritize should not even be in question. 

On Nov. 16, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed new rules on Title IX, federal guidelines which require public schools adhere to the prevention and punishment of discrimination based on sex, which includes sexual violence. The proposed rules restrict sexual harassment and assault policies supposedly for the sake of ensuring due process to the accused.

Tightening the way universities investigate complaints is a valid motive, yet it has been put to waste by DeVos’ blatant intent to bar cases from being investigated. Three of the rules, in particular, are shamelessly crafted to snuff out cases before they can even be investigated.

The new rules would only require schools to investigate cases that either happened on campus or at a campus-sponsored event. They also entail redefining the term sexual harassment so victims not only have to prove they’ve been the subject of harassment or assault, but also that the harassment clearly interferes with their education. Schools will be encouraged to adopt a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence in their investigations, rather than a “preponderance of evidence,” which means the accused is guilty more likely than not.

Thankfully, universities have agency in how they adhere to these new rules. With the number of Title IX reports at UT on the rise, our Title IX office must continue to investigate all future reports with the standards it holds now. 

“Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously,” DeVos said in a statement with the release of the rules.

What about the 74 percent of sexual assault victims at UT who live off campus? 

Accepting the new rules and standards will be a huge step backward for UT, all while discouraging victims, especially because victims are already unlikely to report sexual violence to the University. In the 2017 CLASE study, a survey of UT students, 15 percent of undergraduate female students disclosed they had been sexually assaulted. That is 3,215 female students, yet only 508 Title IX reports were made in the 2017–2018 school year. 

A study by the University of Massachusetts at Boston found that only an approximate six percent of college assault accusations are false. Even if the amount of false allegations decreases as a result of the new rules, it would be at the expense of many more real accusations that won’t be granted an investigation.

Only six percent of victims disclosed their abuse to the University. That is besides the 68 percent of victims who haven’t disclosed their abuse to anyone at all. Not enough victims come forward. The University must prioritize them. 

The University should still consider some of the less problematic rules, one of them being the requirement of multiple investigators to work on a single case, ensuring that no one person’s bias will affect the case. Proposals such as that are reasonable in ensuring a better system and could easily be accepted by college students. Yet it would be absurd to try to improve a system by denying access to it and refusing cases that don’t happen on campus or don’t fit the stringent new definition of sexual harassment.

Shilpa Bakre, communications strategist of UT’s Title IX office said the University will communicate with the students once it finishes reviewing the rules. 

“We strongly encourage survivors to report incidents, and we are committed to a fair and equitable process that protects due process,” Bakre said.

But some universities, such as the University of California, have already condemned the proposed rules and stated their rejection of these tighter restrictions. UT should follow suit. 

The most false accusation is that the accused are suffering more than victims.

Emerson is a journalism and radio-television-film sophomore from San Antonio.