Combating sexual misconduct on college campuses just became a hundred times harder.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ misunderstanding of higher education has resulted in yet another attack on essential university guarantees – this time Title IX policies governing how universities handle cases of sexual violence and harassment.
DeVos proposed rules earlier this month that would provide greater protections to those accused of sexual misconduct and narrow the definition of sexual harassment that universities are required to act on. The biggest change involves allowing accused parties or their lawyers to cross-examine those accusing them of them sexual misconduct, something previously discouraged as it could retraumatize survivors and discourage them from reporting complaints in the first place.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already denounced the rules for tipping investigations in favor of the accused. Suzanne Taylor, the University of California’s Title IX coordinator, said she opposes DeVos’ proposed changes.
In all likelihood, the Title IX revisions will be enacted, severely hampering students’ abilities to report sexual assault and harassment, and overhauling the UC’s investigative model for handling sexual misconduct complaints. In light of these changes, it is imperative the UC bolster its efforts to dismantle the norms that perpetuate the culture of sexual harassment and assault that plagues its campuses. This means providing improved trainings that focus more on sexual violence prevention, rather than merely the legal aspects of sexual misconduct.
The University’s current trainings, which largely focus on acquainting people to legal definitions of sexual harassment, are ineffective. UC faculty and staff are required to undergo training via online modules aimed at helping them gain a better understanding of the University’s sexual violence and sexual harassment policies. Administrators have defended this setup, pointing to the regularity of these training sessions.
Understandably, the legal briefings have done little to challenge the practices of people in power – students included – who facilitate or participate in sexual violence and harassment. The ineffectiveness of such trainings is perhaps best illustrated by the long list of UCLA faculty and staff who have committed sexual harassment despite having undergone these trainings.
On the other hand, action-based training focused on preventing rather than acquainting people with the realities of sexual violence have shown to be more effective in preventing sexual misconduct on campuses. These trainings tackle the institutional complacency surrounding combating sexual misconduct by teaching students, faculty and staff to intervene in high-risk situations. A study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that students who underwent bystander intervention programs reported a greater ability and intent to intervene than to those who did not.
That’s not to say these kinds of trainings will eradicate sexual misconduct at the UC. But administrators need to be aware of and open to implementing these kinds of solutions in the wake of DeVos’ proposed policy changes.
After all, the University’s Title IX apparatus is replete with its own flaws. The fact that the secretary of education’s Title IX revisions would only exacerbate the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence presents the UC with a clear choice.
It can either think bold when it comes to challenging the practices that permit sexual misconduct in the first place.
Or it can be a bystander to DeVos’ attacks on Title IX.