New federal Title IX regulations ignite concern on CSU campuses

BY: LAUREN MUTTRAM | @MuttramLauren

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued new Title IX regulations that went into effect on Aug. 14. The education department’s policy changes how institutions are to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct narrows the definition of “sexual harassment” and implements cross-examination as a tool of investigation.

All public institutions, including California State University campuses, must comply with the new regulations or risk losing federal funding.

For the CSU, the stricter federal regulations regarding sexual harassment are now in place via Addendum B to the university system’s sexual misconduct and harassment. Still, cases where the federal regulations would not apply, such as allegations of “sexual misconduct or dating and domestic violence by a student,” would be investigated and adjudicated via Addendum A — a set of guidelines that more closely mirrors the hearing process prior to the federal changes.

Linda Hoos, systemwide Title IX compliance officer at the CSU, confirmed in addition to stricter federal regulations, CSU campuses will still implement many of the previous Title IX regulations. All reports of sexual harassment will be taken seriously by CSU institutions and provide supportive measures. Employees of the CSU system will continue to report to their campus Title IX officers of any instances of sexual misconduct.

The most controversial change in regulation is the modified definition of sexual harassment. The new regulations use a narrow definition, defining sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is so severe and pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to an education program or activity.”

For a complaint to be defined as one of sexual harassment, it must meet all three terms of severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.

Assistant Vice President of the Office of Equity and Compliance Dawnita Franklin, who also serves as the campus Title IX coordinator and discrimination harassment retaliation administrator, clarified all formal complaints will initially be assessed under the new Addendum B. If the complaint does not meet the criteria outlined under Addendum B, it can then be processed under the previous investigator model of Addendum A.

Another regulation sparking reproach is the implementation of cross-examination in the investigative process for postsecondary institutions. Critics argue cross-examination can retraumatize the victim of sexual assault and potentially discourage victims from coming forward.

This proved true for a recent environmental science graduate who wished to remain anonymous for personal safety.

“There’s already so many things that will withhold a victim from coming forward,” they said. “I worry about the safeguards that are put in place for the victims.”

As someone who experienced the Title IX process firsthand, they are concerned cross-examination will have a negative impact on a victim’s mental health and allow those accused the opportunity to change their stories.

Franklin explained the component of cross-examination is one of many CSU institutions pushed back on. “We understand how traumatizing a cross-examination, in the sense of what we know it to be, can be for parties that have experienced some type of trauma involved with a Title IX matter.”

“We do recognize that students have a lot of questions regarding the new regulations,” said Franklin. “Our office wanted to be very mindful on how we can help educate students.”

Starting Oct. 7, the Office of Equity and Compliance is starting a conversation series called “Get the Tea with OEC.” The office hopes to give students the opportunity to ask questions on a variety of different topics throughout the year. The first conversation will address the new regulations and misconceptions seen in Title IX.

Information on the event to be announced at a later date.

For more information on Title IX, visit https://www.cpp.edu/officeofequity/titleIX/index.shtml

Corrections to this story were made Sept.16, at 3:30 p.m.

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