UCO Committed to Title IX
In this Sept. 7, 2017, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at George Mason University Arlington, Va., campus. DeVos is scheduled to speak on Thursday, Sept. 28, at Harvard University. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
As the Education Department moves forward with its decision to rescind federal guidelines on sexual assault and its investigation, officials at the University of Central Oklahoma reaffirmed the campus’ commitment to Title IX and existing protections against sexual harassment.
“We’re not going to change our existing policy. We are going to continue within the full range of the protections that we afford our students in the appropriate ways. The institution’s dedication to issues related to Title IX will continue to remain very clear and consistent,” UCO President Don Betz said.
Last month, the Education Department announced its decision to withdraw the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Assault, as well as the 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence. This was due to concerns about the lack of due process afforded to those accused in sexual assault investigations.
While the Education Department works to create new guidelines to replace those rescinded, an interim Questions and Answers on Sexual Misconduct has been implemented that explains the departments expectations of schools, according to Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
“This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly,” said DeVos. “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”
Along with the interim guidance, UCO’s own policies are subject to an annual review to ensure compliance with binding Department of Education guidelines, such as the Cleary Act and the 2013 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, according to UCO Title IX Coordinator Adrienne Martinez.
“These policies define and prohibit forms of sexual misconduct and provide remedies for safety, support, and fair resolution. The policies prohibiting sexual misconduct and procedural remedies at UCO remain in full force and effect,” Martinez said. “Options for safety and confidential support remain as available as ever.”
The most significant change within the department’s interim guidelines, is that it allows universities to change the standard of evidence required for in cases of campus sexual assault. a move that DeVos said will hopefully provide a fairer judicial process for the accused.
The guidelines now require investigations to obtain “clear and convincing” standards of proof, as opposed to the prior preponderance of evidence model. Under the preponderance of evidence standard, the more convincing evidence and its probable accuracy was of greater importance to the investigation than the amount of evidence provided.
While DeVos has said that she hopes this new standard will provide a more equitable process to those accused, this change in language raises concerns among advocates of sexual assault survivors that the new guidance is insufficient to address the investigation of campus sexual assault.
Kim Churches, chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women, said, “This is a blatant rollback from the strong and much-needed guidance that was in place. This ever-changing landscape could potentially sow confusion for schools, administrators and staff, students, parents, and communities.”
Organizations such as AAUW have previously expressed concerns that sexual assault continued to go largely unreported, even under the stricter guidance provided by the Obama administration.
A 2015 analysis by AAUW of sexual assault information reported by education institutions under the requirements of the Clery Act found that 89 percent of campuses reported zero rapes during 2015. Previous research conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, has suggested that as many as two-fifths of female students have experienced sexual assault.
According to UCO’s 2017 annual security report, four cases of rape have been reported in the last three years, as well as 14 incidents of dating violence, 11 incidents of domestic violence and 32 incidents of stalking.
Along with policies aimed at discouraging and eliminating such behavior on campus, the campus regularly requires that all students, faculty and staff receive training to become more informed on sexual assault and harassment, according to Martinez.
“UCO has consistently maintained a firm commitment to providing an education and workplace environment free from discrimination and harassment, including sexual violence,” Martinez said. “President Betz communicates this commitment annually to all students, faculty and staff, and requires that all students and employees receive training to become more informed community members and contribute to the efforts that make our campus safer and more secure.”