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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Students start campaign asking University administrators to uphold previous Title IX standards

Two Notre Dame students are starting a campaign asking University President Fr. John Jenkins to uphold previous Title IX standards in spite of recent policy changes made by Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Sophomore Elizabeth Boyle, one of the creators of the “StaND 4 IX” campaign, said the campaign is largely in response to DeVos’s September decision to rescind the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) and 2014 Q&A Guidance for Sexual Assault. According to the StaND 4 IX website, the DCL “provided an interpretation of Title IX, presenting clear guidance to colleges and universities about their obligations in sexual misconduct cases,” and “clearly stated survivors’ rights.”

DeVos’s decision to rescind these directives came shortly after the University’s administration made changes to Notre Dame’s Title IX policy, something Boyle said makes her “very nervous” about how the University will handle sexual assault cases in the future.

“Secretary DeVos is giving schools the option to choose things such as their evidence standard [and] to follow the 60-day timeline or not, so we have this unique opportunity as this wonderful institution to take that moral high ground,” Boyle said. “ … I think that ability to choose our next steps was what inspired us to take this on and to ensure that we are this incredible university steeped in Catholic moral values, as we put out there.”

Sophomore Isabel Rooper, the other creator of the StaND 4 IX campaign, said the University has made great strides in handling Title IX cases over the past several years, and the campaign asks the University to continue making progress.

“Part of what we care about is making sure that the University continues moving forward,” she said. “And so that’s what we’re striving to get a commitment for with this letter, is to make sure that the University continues moving forward and making good on that promise to support and protect survivors of sexual violence, and have a fair and reasonable process.”

Boyle said one of her biggest concerns about the rescinding of the DCL is the removal of the Preponderance of Evidence standard — which requires complainants to prove an incident of sexual assault is “more likely than not” to have occurred — and the removal of a 60-day timeline for investigating and concluding Title IX cases.

The 60-day timeline is the typical timeframe identified in the DCL for how long a Title IX case should take to resolve. While the timeline was not strongly enforced before DeVos rescinded the DCL, Boyle said the only thing that could hold the University to that standard is community members speaking up on behalf of survivors.

“Now I think the biggest push is going to come from student activists,” she said. “[It will come] from saying, ‘Hey, if you’re having a case that’s over 100 days long, you’re re-traumatizing the victims of assault, you’re putting them through this process again.’ So the difference is going to be in saying … that Notre Dame has this choice, and we pride ourselves on making the right choice, the choice that has the higher morality and protects people.”

Notre Dame has conducted investigations that have lasted longer than the 60-day timeline while the DCL was in place, such as a case that resulted in an ongoing lawsuit from a former student. Rooper said the campaign asks the University to recommit to the 60-day standard in order to minimize the trauma for all parties in a Title IX investigation.

“We understand that there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that make it difficult for a university to complete an investigation within 60 days,” she said. “ … But the goal of having the University commit to that timeline … is to be able to hold the University accountable and say Title IX investigations are really difficult [for] the complainant and the respondent alike, and containing that investigation as much as we can will be beneficial for all parties involved in Title IX cases.”

The campaign, which will send an open letter to Fr. Jenkins on Nov. 17, also asks the University not to resort to mediation in cases of sexual misconduct and calls for the creation of waivers for the six-semester housing requirement so that “survivors of sexual misconduct and other forms of discrimination” can move off-campus.

“Ideally, what we would like to see is a waiver system that doesn’t require the victim survivor to share their story in order to be able to move off campus,” Rooper said. “ … We think that that’s a form of re-traumatization for victims and asking too much of persons who have already been ostracized or felt excluded from our community in some way.”

This request extends beyond Title IX to issues of discrimination against groups such as racial minorities and the LGBT community, Boyle said.

Rooper stressed that everyone can contribute to this campaign, and said sexual misconduct “isn’t a partisan issue.”

“This is something that we should all be on the same page about and that we should all decide that we need our university to commit to a fair process which will support survivors,” she said. “ … People can have differing opinions on what we’re working on, but we think it’s really important that people consider what’s happening nationally, because this is a really big and significant time for Title IX changes right now and people need to pay attention.”