A few weeks ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her proposed overhaul of federal standards for the adjudication of sexual assault and harassment in higher education. In the name of “due process,” DeVos proposed several controversial changes, including a requirement that would allow colleges and universities to investigate incidents that solely occur within campus-sanctioned events and activities. A drastic shift from the previously enforced Obama-era guidance, which obligated institutions to act if they knew about, or “reasonably” should have known about an episode of harassment of assault.
Following the proposal came immediate backlash from sexual assault advocates who claimed that the proposal appeases schools that were under pressure from the previous guidance, and discourages survivors from reporting incidents. Essentially, under the new rules, schools could pass on investigating harassment or assault experienced by students just outside of campus perimeters.
But experts are saying that although schools won't be reprimanded for turning down cases, they won't stray far away from previous guidelines. In fact, schools deal with off-campus conduct issues all the time outside of sexual assault. There's a lengthy history of institutions in higher education taking the initiative to extend student disciplinary regulations to off-campus behavior, whether it be alcohol use, drugs, and other code of conduct violations.
At first notice of the proposal, advocates were concerned with greek housing. Greek life is a huge part of campus culture where sexual assault and harassment is rampant. But since greek housing is defined as an educational “program or activity,” incidents that take place here will be adjudicated by the school. However, implications of Title IX for other off-campus locations like bars, clubs, and student events that aren't necessarily school-sanctioned are way less clear.
Most importantly, the proposed regulations state that nothing would prevent colleges from launching adjudication proceedings when harassment occurs outside a campus program or activity. So it is ultimately up to schools to determine if they take cases that occur outside their new scope of jurisdiction.
Many higher education institutions have been eerily quiet in reaction to the proposed rules. It could be because they may not aware of the implications of the laws, or there may be a fear of scrutiny from either due process or survivor advocates.
But there are still so many unanswered questions. Schools will likely seek answers regarding what constitutes a campus “program or activity,” and more details about what could be considered “on-campus” and “off-campus.”
Nationwide Title IX Advisor
The only way to make sure your voice is heard and your rights are upheld is to retain a student defense attorney. For respondents, especially, the assistance of an attorney advisor is invaluable in the Title IX process. National Title IX attorney Joseph D. Lento has the skill, experience, and expertise to help you preserve your entitled rights under Title IX and your school's policy. For a case evaluation or more information about his representation, contact him online or give him a call at 888-535-3686 today.