UT must protect students from new Title IX policies

Daisy Kielty

As schools across the nation think about how to return to campus amid a global pandemic, they must now also focus on implementing new rules implemented by the Trump administration.

At the beginning of May, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the final changes to the Title IX policies affecting how school campuses are meant to handle cases of sexual assault and misconduct. These new Title IX changes are only going to hurt victims of sexual assault and misconduct. 

UT has made progress over the past semester to hold perpetrators accountable and keep students safe. Although schools who fail to implement the new Title IX rules by August 14 risk losing federal funding, it is crucial for UT to continue its progress by standing up against the federal government to ensure all of its students are protected on campus.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination on college campuses and K-12 schools, including sexual harassment, which the Obama administration defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

The definition of sexual harassment has now been narrowed to conduct that “a reasonable person” would think is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to an education.”

In addition to narrowing the threshold of what constitutes sexual misconduct, the new rules expand protections to those accused of sexual misconduct. Now mimicking a criminal trial, those accused will be presumed innocent, have the right to access all evidence against them and can cross-examine accusers during live hearings through a representative or lawyer.

On the surface, these new rules sound reasonable. However, when put into practice, they can be counterproductive. According to victim advocacy groups such as the National Women’s Law Center, the new rules will only discourage survivors from reporting and make it an even harder process for those who do report. The new regulations are prioritizing predators over victims –– further hurting those they claim to protect.  

Earlier this year, President Gregory Fenves announced three major changes to the school’s sexual misconduct policy:

  1. UT will streamline the resources offered to survivors to support them effectively.

  2. Any faculty or staff member found to have committed sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking or interpersonal violence will be terminated.

  3. If a UT employee is found to have engaged in sexual misconduct but was not terminated due to mitigating factors, the case information will be released to the public while preserving the privacy of the survivors. 

These changes were seen as progress — protecting survivors and holding predators accountable for their actions. The new Title IX policies threaten this progress. 

As a result of these changes, the UT System Title IX Working Group is planning how to best implement the regulations across all systems with minimal disruption, J.B. Bird, director of media relations and issues management, said in an email. They will be sharing proposed changes later this summer, Bird said. 

However, these new changes that defend perpetrators and hurt survivors should not be implemented on campus at all.

“UT-Austin strives to protect its students and employees from discrimination based on sex in our educational programs and activities while meeting the Constitutional command that guarantees every member of our campus community receive due process under law,” Bird said. “Every UT community member should be able to learn and work in an environment free from all forms of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, exploitation and intimidation.”

The University has a job to protect its students. Although UT may be required to implement the new Title IX rules, it must still stand with survivors and try to eliminate sexual violence on our campus. 

We must continue to hold UT accountable for its handlings of sexual misconduct and assault. We must continue to stand with survivors. 

Kielty is a government and sociology junior from Concord, Massachusetts.