Senior Class Responds to Title IX

In response to the suggested policy change regarding the implementation of Title IX, the senior class of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University reaffirms their commitment to gender justice, inclusion, and equity.  We choose not to focus only on the most widely publicized issues, such as the standards of adjudication in cases of sexual assault (“the preponderance of evidence standard” vs.  “the clear and convincing standard”) or the narrower definition of sexual harassment (“severe, persistent, and pervasive”). Instead, we draw attention to the overall philosophy of the policy and the potentially devastating impact of the new regulations’ deliberately narrow interpretations of “discrimination” and “education” as public endeavor.  

1. The Department of Education highlights that “the total monetary cost savings of these regulationsover ten years would be in the range of $286.4 million to $367.7 million. In addition, the major benefits of these proposed regulations, taken as a whole, include achieving the protective purposes of Title IX via fair, reliable procedures that provide adequate due process protections for those involved in grievance processes” (6). Placing procedure, protections, and student wellbeing after monetary gain in alist of benefits prioritizes financial gain for institutions as the primary advantage of the proposed regulations. Furthermore, the frequency of certain words further demonstrates this severe misplacement of priorities. The term “cost” appears 100 times, compared to the term “health” which appears a total of 18 times, showing a clear prioritization of calculating expenditures rather than student wellbeing. The Georgetown University Women and Gender Studies Program 2019 Senior class rejects this notion that these proposed regulations can be adopted on a “reasoned determination that their benefits justify their costs” (89).

2. The proposed changes regarding “education program and activity,” as explained in Section 106.44(a), limit the obligation of universities to investigate all cases of sexual assault. This alteration is deliberately inconclusive, with potential factors for consideration including  “whether the conduct occurred in a location or in a context where the recipient owned the premises; exercised oversight, supervision, or discipline; or funded, sponsored, promoted, or endorsed the event or circumstance” (p 25), thus leaving loopholes for potential exemption for institutions and ignoring the needs of students on and off campus. While the proposed regulation does state that geographic location should not be a factor on whether further investigation is necessary, its language ignores organizations that possibly have a presence on campus but do not receive funding or recognized by the university. We also expect the commuting students would be adversely affected by these new regulations.

3. With a focus on college campuses, the proposed rules show a lack of consideration to how its regulations would impact students in grades K-12, who are just as in need of Title IX’s protection.  In one measure of prevalence, the American Association of University Women (new window) found that nearly half of students in grades 7-12 reported sexual harassment in the 2010-2011 school year.  The proposed rules neglect the needs of K-12 students in a number of ways. Because the proposed regulations allow schools to act only in cases of harassment that occur on its premises or within its programs as mentioned above, K-12 students who do not live “on campus” – the overwhelming majority of such students – are left behind. Schools would not be able to respond to assaults that occur in homes or other off-campus locations, even if harassment on school premises follows. Additionally, the proposed regulation also requires school officials only investigate claims of which they have “actual knowledge” and only when reported to the school’s Title IX Coordinator, teachers, or officials with “the authority to institute corrective measures.”  This shift in policy would fail students in the K-12 setting by excluding trusted school officials like guidance counselors, playground supervisors, sports coaches, and others. Young people face these high levels of harassment and violence as they develop an understanding of these ideas and their worldview and identity more broadly. In this context, we should be increasing the support provided to K-12 students, and prioritizing fostering a culture of respect for survivors and condemnation of sexual harassment in all its forms.

4. Section 4.d. of the proposed Title IX regulations states that “a religious institution is not required to preemptively submit a written letter to the Department [of Education] to claim the religious exemption from Title IX provided for by statute” (United States Department of Education, 105). This relaxation of rules concerning religious exemption can negatively affect pregnant or parenting students and those who identify as LGBTQ+IA. As it stands, Title IX requires that schools do not discriminate against students on the basis of sex, which should include discrimination against pregnant or parenting students and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no mention within the new regulations of parenting students, pregnant students, and students who do not adhere to the heteronormative norms. Should schools choose to claim a religious exemption, this could negatively affect all their students, as institutions could ostensibly use the clause to claim a religious exemption from all tenets of the Title IX statute.