Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education directors from across the University of California system, including Director Briana Conway from UC Santa Barbara, met early last week and discussed the Department of Education’s recent proposed changes to Title IX.

During the meetings, the 10 UC Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education (C.A.R.E.) directors unpacked how students could be affected by the changes to Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding.

The amendments were proposed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

By the end of the meetings, the C.A.R.E. directors agreed to work on a collaborative document that would voice their concerns to the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and the U.S. Department of Education.

C.A.R.E. is a UC system-wide program that provides support and advocacy to students, faculty and staff who experience domestic violence. UCSB’s chapter is led by Conway, who has been working with the program since 2014.

The meetings took place at UC Davis and spanned from Dec. 10 to Dec. 12. Those in attendance also included UC Interim Systemwide Title IX Coordinator Suzanne Taylor and Vice President for Student Affairs Robin Holmes Sullivan.

The directors typically hold biannual meetings to discuss a multitude of issues related to sexual assault and violence, Conway said. At last week’s meeting, their primary concern was the Department of Education’s recent proposed Title IX changes.

Among various modifications, the changes propose narrowing the definition of sexual assault under Title IX and allowing for the cross-examination of accusers and respondents in live courtroom hearings.

The C.A.R.E. directors discussed how these changes would disrupt the UC’s current “single-investigator model” by allowing for the cross-examination of accusers and respondents in live hearings.

Currently, the UC’s model uses a “neutral-fact finding” investigator to determine whether there is enough evidence to constitute a violation of Title IX policy. The amendments would change this by shifting disputes to traditional courtroom settings, opening the possibility of power imbalances, according to Conway.

“It’s becoming much more of a legalized process that can feel really intimidating to someone in trauma. Obviously some parties choose to have lawyers involved, so there’s an imbalance in power there if one party has a lawyer and the other doesn’t,” she said.

Other concerns related to this amendment includes the financial ability of students to pay for legal services often needed to pursue a case in court, Conway said.

Conway feels that shifting to the courtroom model would create unnecessarily difficult hurdles for survivors as well as alleged perpetrators.

“Having to put a survivor in the same room as their perpetrator is barbaric, but that’s not to say that the student who is defending their academic future isn’t also in a stressful situation,” Conway said.

“I think the burden would fall on either the UC or our campus to integrate how what happens in Isla Vista is tied to the educational experience of the students.”

Additionally, the C.A.R.E. directors considered how schools would no longer be required to investigate off-campus allegations, which could leave a large number of incidents in neighboring communities ignored, according to Conway.

She feels that especially with UCSB and Isla Vista, survivors’ experiences would be severely neglected.

Conway hopes that whatever transpires with the proposed changes, UC administrators will be able to maintain protections of their students under the law. However, she said it might be up to the UC system to decide how to proceed with pursuing off-campus cases in the future.

“I think the burden would fall on either the UC or our campus to integrate how what happens in Isla Vista is tied to the educational experience of the students.”

C.A.R.E. directors also discussed controversies over the amount of evidence required for Title IX convictions.

Currently, the “preponderance of evidence” standard requires that institutions follow the lowest standard of evidence when deciding if students have violated Title IX. This standard was set forth by the Obama administration, according to the New York Times.

With the changes, the Department of Education would instead let schools decide which standard to follow, whether it be “preponderance of the evidence” or a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” as the department’s report stated.

According to the report, some cases carry “particularly grave consequences for a respondent’s reputation and ability to pursue a professional career,” which might warrant a higher standard of proof.

Whether it be “preponderance of evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence,” institutions would be required to use the same standard for students and faculty members, the report said.

Conway agrees that regardless of the accepted standard, it is most important for institutions use the same guidelines for employees and students alike.

“When we treat populations with different standards of evidence … it almost creates a system of power and privilege,” Conway said.

In light of the proposed amendments, C.A.R.E. directors also talked about how schools can provide resources.

“If the federal government is going to start narrowing down the help that we can provide survivors in the administrative process, we as an institution need to respond to broader, better arms to help care for the human being,” she said.

This includes ensuring that “responsible employees” respond adequately to reports of sexual assault and are trained to provide resources for students and connect them to programs like C.A.R.E. It also includes communicating students’ rights to survivors and helping them through processes like law enforcement and civil reporting.

Taylor and UC President Janet Napolitano, who recently wrote a press release and an op-ed about this issue respectively, will factor C.A.R.E.’s discussion into the official UC opinion on the Title IX changes, Conway said.

The Department of Education has allowed for a 60-day period of public comment following the proposed changes. It will be required to respond to any “substantive” comments after the conclusion of the period on Jan. 21, 2019.

Conway encourages students, faculty and community members to voice their concerns.

“We want them to hear their constituencies’ voice of why these are problematic or detrimental. The more voices we use, the harder it is to justify the decision,” she said.

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