UT must continue to investigate off-campus assaults

Ashka Dighe

UT should not adopt United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed changes to Title IX federal guidelines because off-campus incidents impact campus environment and student safety. According to the 2017 Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments study, 87 percent of unwanted sexual contact occurred off-campus. The proposed changes to the Title IX federal guidelines that would no longer require Title IX to investigate incidents that take place off-campus or at non-university affiliated events. DeVos’s proposal could save universities approximately $400 million, but at the expense of its students’ safety and well-being.

If Title IX at UT were to compromise its commitment to survivors of sexual assault and stop investigating off-campus assaults, they would be sending the message that the University’s finances matters more than their students’ safety and well-being. Regardless of the potential change in Title IX federal guidelines, UT needs to continue investigating off-campus incidents.

Sixty-six percent of victims of sexual assault live off campus in non-university affiliated housing. Because more than half the students affected by sexual assault live off-campus and the majority of assaults occur either in apartments or at parties, the University cannot deny its obligation to investigate off-campus incidents that impact its students.

“UT’s commitment to survivors is minimal at best,” said a sophomore sexual assault survivor who was assaulted at the Callaway House in the spring semester of 2018. Title IX at UT is currently investigating her case. Right now, UT students who are victims of assault, stalking or domestic violence off-campus still have access to on-campus resources and can have their case investigated through Title IX.  However, if UT changes their policy based on DeVos’s suggestions, cases like these would never be heard by the University.

The difference between opening a Title IX investigation and reporting the case to the police is sizable. Participating in a Title IX investigation is emotionally taxing and stressful for all parties involved. However, a formal police complaint and possible court case could cause a greater level of emotional stress for the victim. Furthermore, hiring an attorney puts an even greater burden on survivors to handle everything alone when they are already going through a difficult time.

The University of California system has already released a statement explaining their attitude towards the proposed changes in the Title IX federal guideline and promised students full commitment to combating sexual violence. UT should be more willing to make the same promises.

Shilpa Bakre, the communications strategist for UT’s Title IX office, said that UT continues to seek ongoing improvements in their education and prevention processes. While adding new improvements to their Title IX processes, UT should focus on their goal of protecting students and should continue to extend this promise to students who are assaulted off-campus.

According to UT’s Title IX website, the University is committed to protecting all members of its campus community and fostering a campus environment free from all forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault. In order to truly foster this promise of a safe environment on campus, UT has a responsibility to all its students, including those harmed off-campus. If UT stops investigating off-campus incidents, they would be failing to protect their students.

Dighe is a Plan II and neuroscience sophomore from Houston.