By Judith Zatkin & Joan Tabachnick
Recently, the White House requested comments and feedback on new Title IX regulations released in August of last year, regarding campus sexual harassment and assault. With the previous administration, there were a number of changes that many colleges and individuals strongly objected to. In fact, there were over 130,000 comments submitted, mostly voicing their concerns and objections during the comment period. Without going into all of those changes and the seismic changes that these caused on our campuses, one change significant for ATSA was to encourage equitable respondent services alongside of similar services for survivors. Equitable was not defined, but it opens the question about what are equitable services for complainant (those who were harmed) and respondents (those who have been accused or found responsible for that harm). We believe that it is possible to both protect survivors, and match respondents with adequate services to promote healing and prevent further aggressive behaviors.
In 2020, Jenny Coleman and Becky Palmer put together some commentary, with our concerns about the initial changes. For the current comment period, these comments were edited and updated by Joan Tabachnick with input from members of the campus sexual assault sub-committee. This group is made up of members from the Prevention and Public Policy Committees.
This update repeated our request for broader definitions for sexual harassment and assault, which would allow for those with lower-level harassment behaviors to access services that can prevent future misconduct. With the narrow definition, colleges and universities lose the opportunity to address behaviors before they escalate to sex crimes and establish a social norm of respect and accountability.
We requested a clearer definition of “equitable” services. Anecdotally, we have heard that some campuses are ending their Memorandum of Understanding with local rape crisis centers because there is not equivalent service for students who have been accused of sexual misconduct. Our statement noted that equitable is not necessarily equal, noting that those accused of sexual misconduct need very different services than survivors. This also offered us an opportunity to describe some of the research from ATSA members which clearly note that services for those found responsible for sexual misconduct must be individualized. This individualized approach, a relatively new concept for many in the campus world, allows institutions of higher education to develop services that are best matched for the needs of their campus community. Prevention works best when it is tailored to the needs of individuals and the systems in which they reside.
We also commented on the problematic shift in these new Title IX regulations from the use of interim measures, which could be required such as changing class schedules, room assignments, etc. to the use of supportive measures, which are purely voluntary. Institutions need the ability to ensure safety for everyone, those who are harmed and those who are accused of causing the harm. They also need the ability to respond to a situation once a complaint has been filed. Under the new regulations, all of these measures must be voluntary by the party involved. The only avenue now open to institutions is to conduct a detailed threat assessment to determine if the student is a significant threat to a student or the campus. If that is founded, then a student can be removed from campus – the campus still cannot address behaviors that are significant, but do not reach the level of a threat to the campus. Again, the campus is losing the ability to respond to a situation when it is reported and begin a more robust conversation with everyone involved.
We are thankful to ATSA members Tay Bosley, Katie Gotch, Keith Kaufman, Ray Knight, and Seth Wescott provided ideas about this update, which were essential to this work. The ATSA Statement is now on our website at: https://www.atsa.com/Public/Office/Legislation/ATSATitleIXRuleChangeComment2021.pdf. If you want to learn more about the public comment period, here is that link (https://web.cvent.com/event/ba5eef74-8f35-4a4e-b0a7-1f047fe033bc/summary). We would be happy to hear any additional feedback surrounding ATSA’s involvement in the prevention of campus sexual misconduct.
Co-Chair of the Prevention Committee
Member of Campus Sexual Misconduct Sub-Committee
Joan Tabachnick, MBA
Co-Chair of the Campus Sexual Misconduct Sub-Committee