Tess Hemmila and Allison Wordes–Staff Writers
With the Trump administration’s changes to the Title IX policy set to allow schools more flexibility, Dordt College officials say the campus policy regarding sexual assaults will be adapted to fit the needs of new regulations.
On Sept. 22, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education proposed major changes to Title IX, which are government regulations that prohibit sex discrimination in education.
“There is no place on a Christian college campus for sexual assault,” said Erik Hoekstra, Dordt College President. “Our policy is going to be, first of all, biblical, and second legal. We take sexual assault very seriously at Dordt.”
As a part of the new changes, two documents that had previously outlined the responsibility of schools’ response to sexual violence and discrimination have been rescinded, or overruled. These are the “Dear Colleague” letter released in 2011, and a Q&A document from 2014, both of which have been replaced.
The new documents place an emphasis on fairness for both the reporting party and the responding parties. The policy provides standards for interim measures, which are individual services offered as appropriate to both parties before, and during an investigation. These accommodations may include: counseling, extensions and course-related assistance, changes in housing, etc.
The new regulations also allow schools more freedom to decide their policies, specifically, their policy on the definition of evidence. Previously, the standard of evidence meant preponderance of evidence, which means that if the school is 50 percent and a feather sure that something happened, they should investigate the report. Now, schools will be allowed to decide what standard of evidence they wish to adopt: the preponderance of evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard.
Leah Zuidema, Associate Provost and one of Dordt’s Title IX investigators, said she is pleased with new changes, which follow the ‘spirit of the law.’
“I’m glad to see additional emphasis on due process,” said Zuidema. “On both sides we should be asking, ‘are we being ethical and are we doing justice?’”
Since Trump’s election last year, changes to the policy were expected. One of the largest adaptations to Title IX is that it will be more closely intertwined with the Clery Act, a piece of legislation that aims to provide transparency about campus crime policy and statistics. Schools are required to disclose statistics of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Another change is the lifting of the 60 day investigation window. Previously, investigations had to be completed in fewer than 60 days, but now schools have the freedom to conduct their investigations in what they deem to be a timely manner. This allows schools and investigators to be thorough in examining evidence.
The recent changes have caused a rift between those against and those in favor of the new regulations. This division has left a large amount of people in the middle confused and undecided on the issue.
Those in opposition to the changes are concerned that the new standards may allow more cases to be dismissed or improperly investigated. The concern is that schools will set too lax of standards, and cases might be handled incorrectly.
Those in favor of the changes see emphasis on due process and fairness to both parties. The new guidance allows schools more freedom to determine their policy.
In the last academic school year (2016-2017), Dordt College filed four Title IX reports, all of which were deemed worthy of investigation.
Title IX regulations are not law. Not all schools in the United States are subject to Title IX. Schools are only bound by Title IX regulations if they receive government funding, referring back to Title IV. Dordt awards close to $15 million in student loans and Pell grants on behalf of the government annually. Because of this, Title IX applies to Dordt College.
“Title IX cases can be mishandled, but, when it’s done correctly, it can help both parties,” said Erin Olsen, professor of Social Work and Title IX investigator. “It’s our job as Title IX investigators to determine if school policy was broken, not to determine guilt or innocence.”
In this period of transition, there is simply no way to know exactly what effect Title IX will have on schools. The documents still have to go through a period of public comment and are not yet permanent.
Howard Wilson, VP and Chief Administrative Officer, summed up the situation by saying, “At present, there’s a lot of smoke and not necessarily any light.”
Use Wheaton story as a Sidebar: Not exactly related to our Title IX story, but still relevant-
Wheaton College, an evangelical college in Illinois has made headlines because of its recent and very public Title IX case. In the past month, five football students were charged with felonies, leading back to the hazing episode in the spring of 2016. In the report, the victim reported receiving labral tears in both of his shoulders, which required surgery.
Even though the five had been deemed unable to continue playing for the football team, their names remain on the roster for 2017. Three of the five played against Carthage college as recently as two weeks ago. It is a case that has received attention because of the lack of action that was taken by the school.
When asked about the incident at Wheaton College, freshman Demetrius Rowser said, “I just don’t think anyone at Dordt has that kind of heart.”
The campus of 2,850 students is similar in size to Dordt, and shares many of the same values and goals for its institution.
“We prayed at one of our meetings for the school and for the students involved,” said Hoekstra. “The unfortunate truth is that sin is going to enter into everything in this world.”
Zuidema said Dordt starts each year positively. She noted recently that Dordt initiated leadership breakfasts for teams to encourage new students. Rather than being deterred from participating in the community, newcomers are welcomed and treated with respect.