While addressing students and faculty at George Mason University on Sept. 7, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos voiced her dismay at the current system of how sexual assault is handled on college campuses, and announced upcoming changes to policies set under President Barack Obama.
Melinda Stoops, Boston College’s Title IX Coordinator and associate vice president for Student Affairs, voiced concerns about the uncertainty about the changes DeVos plans to make.
“I think what is anxiety provoking for everyone is that she didn’t provide a clear direction of what’s going to change, and so it put us all on notice that a change is coming but we’re not sure what that is going to look like,” Stoops said.
DeVos—whose confirmation hearing came down to a first-ever tie-breaking vote for a Cabinet nomination, by Vice President Mike Pence—said she believes that the current laws, which are derived from a “Dear Colleague” letter put out in 2011 by the Obama administration, provide an excess of government involvement in the guilt determination process.
“Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate,” DeVos said.
DeVos also said that the current laws do not provide proper due process or adequate services to victims of rape or to those accused.
“Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved,” she said.
Regardless of the uncertainty of the upcoming changes, BC’s Title IX team is prepared to handle any alterations that the government makes to the current laws.
“I have a group of people that meets monthly that’s a Title IX hearing committee and we had met shortly after that speech so we discussed that there and we will be continuing to discuss it,” Stoops said.
Stoops explained that the “Dear Colleague” letter that DeVos talked about changing is not the only sexual assault laws that BC follows.
“Title IX is only one of several guidelines we follow, which is something we need to keep in mind, I really believe that we have a strong policy, our policies comply with the law,” she said. “They comply with the Violence Against Women Act, and so at this point we do have strong policies in place and we’re not going to do anything at this point in time.”
Katie Dalton, director of the Women’s Center, also said that the current policies would not change.
“The Women’s Center is committed to maintaining the University’s current policies regarding sexual misconduct, all of which comply with the law and are fair to all parties,” she said in an email…
Before making radical changes to the laws, the Department of Education will hear feedback from experts on changes they might make.
“There’s going to be a comments process where they’ll put forward information for people to review and comment on, which is a good thing,” Stoops, who oversees the Women’s Center, said.
“The (Women’s) Center knows that the University will closely monitor any legal developments, but at this time, does not have plans to change current policies or current response to sexual violence on campus,” Dalton said.
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