GILLIAN REINHARD ’20
The Women and Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC) and the Trinity College Democrats co-sponsored a panel entitled “New Title IX Guidance: How Will It Affect You and Trinity?” The panel comes as a result of the recent changes by United States Secretary of Education Betsy Devos to the Title IX policy. The panel featured Associate Professor of Legal and Policy Studies Adrienne Fulco, Title IX Coordinator Timothy Dunn, Director of WGRAC Laura Lockwood, and WGRAC Training and Program Coordinator Monique Daley. The panel was moderated by Charlotte Oakley ’21.
As explained by Fulco, the history of Title IX Policy at Colleges and Universities has been long and varied. The law pertains speciFIcally to prevent discrimination based on sex in educational institutions and, at its core, allows equal opportunity for every student. Early in Title IX’s history, the policy applied mainly to athletics (for example,if a school has a men’s basketball team, they should also have a women’s), but also heavily addresses how sexual assault must be handled on college campuses.
The speakers explained that the recent changes made by Devos were outlined to schools across the country with a question and answer document in September. Most notably, Devos is giving the option of allowing schools to make decisions on sexual assault using a higher standard of evidence instead of the Obama-era guideline calling for a preponderance of evidence. This standard of evidence is based on making decisions based on the more convincing evidence, rather than the sheer amount of evidence in a Title IX Case. Lockwood commented that this “increasing standard of evidence could possibly be a deterrent, making it more difficult for students come forward.” However, she also acknowledged that Devos’ policies can potentially give more rights to those accused and create a balanced approach to dealing with sexual assault on campus. “Both parties need proper support,” she added.
The Title IX Policy at Trinity was explained in detail by Title IX Coordinator Timothy Dunn. He commented that there are three different levels of reporting sexual assault to a responsible employee. Dunn stressed that there are ways for victims of sexual assault to confidentially report the crime, and can always find emotional support from both chaplains or the Trinity College Counselling Center. WGRAC and the Health Center were also stated as important resources for those who have suffered from sexual assault.
Dunn continued to explain the process of reporting sexual assault on campus, and mentioned that the most important goal of the College’s work in addressing assault is “how to help the victim and decide what to do from there.” While certain cases are outsourced by law firms, an eight-person team on campus handles other cases.
Because of the changes initiated by Devos, colleges across the country now have the choice for how they wish to handle sexual assault. Many schools are choosing the option to accept assault cases based on Devos’ guidelines of clear and convincing evidence, requiring a larger amount of evidence to convict the accused. However, many other schools prefer to stay with Obama’s Title IX Policy rooted in a preponderance of evidence, or evidence that may not be numerically large, but extremely convincing. For the time being, Trinity will continue to assess sexual assault cases with the preponderance of evidence. So, although the media has reported extensively on changes to Title IX Policy, for students at Trinity, sexual assault cases and how they are handled will largely remain unchanged.
Lockwood stressed the various resources, both medically and emotionally, available to victims of sexual assault. Trinity’s Title IX section of its website offers several contacts for sexual support as well as information on the College’s policy and rights for both victims and those accused of sexual assault. Additionally, an online reporting form remains open for any students wishing to submit an accusation of assault. WGRAC also provides extensive information and resources on sexual assault, as well as a full list of responsible employees on campus and information on the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). As stressed by all members of the panel, the number one priority of sexual assault policy is to provide equal treatment to all parties involved and increasing student awareness on campus.