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Title IX changed, and everyone needs to know about it

Editor's Note: This story contains information about sexual harassment and assault that readers may find triggering. Reader discretion is advised. 

Do you remember when quarantine began? When we Duke students were issued the rhetoric of having “more time?” Quieted with the illusion of a period of non-distraction? Made to dance in some grand pledge to unfettered productivity as differentials in access to food, shelter and education became still more salient? Yeah, I do too.

Life as we knew it crumbled at our feet, everything familiar rendered the opposite, and now that those familiar pieces are slowly returning to us, our first instinct may be to ignore change that threatens our fragile normal. Today, though, we have a responsibility to act against that instinct, because we exist within the context of a new Title IX Policy–one so irresponsible, so capable of harm that it does not deserve the low profile it has so far occupied. 

Some of you may not be familiar with Title IX, and that’s okay. The expectation is not that you emerge from this column having transformed into some sort of omniscient agent of all things Title IX. My hope, however, is that you will be carried to a level of understanding that allows you to join me in questioning, in criticizing and in advocating for those whom this policy will undoubtedly harm in disproportionate measure.

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Let’s start with the basics: definitions. Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed with the Education Amendments of 1972 that protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sex in educational and employment programs that receive federal funding. This policy at one time offered unequivocal guidance for protecting students of all gender identities, taking on many practical iterations in the university setting. In theory, those traditionally made to feel othered in the classroom and on the athletic field were afforded their rightful space; women could not be stripped of their right to education or employment on the basis of pregnancy or parenthood; and transgender students were able to use sex-segregated facilities at the discretion of their identity. 

Provisions for action against sexual misconduct were also outlined. Survivors who filed reports were protected from any retaliatory action, and institutions were accountable for minimizing further trauma by ensuring that a survivor was not made to share a common space with their abuser. Though there often exists an irreconcilable space between intent and outcome—with Title IX being no exception—this policy as it once existed worked to facilitate an inclusive educational and employment landscape where all were safe to live and to be within their gender. 

Title IX became the site of intense partisan controversy in 2016, when the Obama administration outlined civil rights protections for transgender individuals. In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era guidance regarding gender identity, with Liz Hill of the Department of Education clarifying in 2018 that “Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity.” As a result, local districts now possess the power to deny transgender people the most basic human right of mobility without retribution. This rollback of Obama-era policies generated the momentum which produced Title IX’s most recent metamorphosis and this column’s subject: the drastically altered sexual misconduct proceedings. 

The U.S Department of Education, stewarded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is author to this new version of Title IX. DeVos claims an allegiance to “due process” and a “presumption of innocence” for the accused, as "Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault". This statement alone indicates a gross misunderstanding of survivorship, DeVos the parrot of a public imagination which incorrectly maintains reporting as a means of monetary or personal gain.

 A study conducted in 2010 found that false sexual assault allegations range between two and ten percent. How is it that for every 100 individuals, the minority of false accusations invalidates the 90 to 98 individuals speaking their truth? How is it that our culture claims these individuals have gained from reporting, while simultaneously punishing them with ostracism, blame and invalidation? Who the hell are these students that DeVos speaks of who have “lost access to their education,” when during the 2017-2018 academic year, Duke conducted only five administrative hearings for the 187 complaints of sexual misconduct received?

In another divergence from Obama-era guidelines, Title IX now features a considerably narrower definition of sexual harassment; if the harrassment does not qualify as “severe” and “pervasive,” the allegation will be dismissed. This definition fails to recognize that the tolerance of any sexual misconduct, even in its less tangible forms, serves to uphold and reproduce rape culture and all its associated violence. Furthermore, while allegations on campus, at school-sponsored activities off-campus, and in frat and sorority houses will be considered, allegations of misconduct occurring outside of the country–say, during a study abroad program–will be excluded. If the Duke Community Standard can follow us anywhere on Earth, so should accountability for sexual misconduct. 

Most heinously, for allegations that do reach the stage of administrative action, colleges and universities are now required to hold live hearings with the option for a cross-examination of the accusor and the accused, in which each party picks an “advisor.” Not only is such a hearing hugely inappropriate in terms of trauma-informed practice, but it also produces yet another acting stage for the power differentials of race, wealth, privelege and gender that perpetrators of sexual assault exploit.

This new Title IX Policy fails students in extraordinary ways, a failure only compounded by Duke’s utter lack of effort to facilitate an engaging, robust conversation with the student body. I am not sure who on Duke administration needs to hear this, but a request for public comment on the Title IX policy changes, buried in a Duke Daily email and sent out 48 hours before said comments are due is NOT an example of an engaging, nor a robust conversation. It’s not a conversation at all. One could even argue that this behavior qualifies for what is known as “bare minimum.” To my peers, the avenue to a safer Duke is only accessible when we hold each other and our institution accountable, when together, we learn, and we question the world around us. To the administration: the Duke Community Standard isn’t just something we sign before exams. If Duke values respect and accountability as you say, 

Show it. 

PASH is a student-run organization providing resources for sexual health and relationship-building. Their column, “Let’s talk about ‘it,’” runs on alternate Mondays. To ask them a question about sex or relationships, submit to this form. This column was written by Carly Jones, a Trinity junior and Vice President of PASH. 

For anyone who has suffered from sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, gender-based harrassment, and other unwanted contact, please visit the following link to be connected with trauma counselors Sheila Broderick and April-Autumn Jenkins of the Duke Women’s Center. This service is confidential and does not serve as a formal report: https://duke.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_01Jm5CV9aA2s6xf

Gender Violence On-Call Pager Number: (919)-978-2108

If there is an emergency situation or you are in immediate danger, please call 911 or contact the Duke Police at (919)-684-2444. 

Editor's Note: The column was edited after publication to clarify that Title IX now requires the option for either the accuser or accused to request a cross-examination during a sexual assault trial.

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