By Liz Friden
On Wednesday, November 1st, PEERS and SGA hosted a Town Hall on Title IX. The Town Hall was a chance for students to ask questions on the recent changes to Title IX under the Trump administration. It was moderated by Brianna Howard, the president of SGA, and Matt Finley, a Student Coordinator of PEERS.
This is the first time CUA has had an event open to all students to specifically discuss Title IX.
The panel included eight professional staff members, including Frank Vinik. Vinik is the first full time Title IX coordinator for the university. He started the position two and a half years ago.
Vinik is committed to preventing sexual assault, saying, ‘’I also feel a part of my job is to change the culture at the University.’’
He explained those changes, ‘’A campus climate survey was done two years ago, and then we did one six months ago. We had over 700 students take it each time. The first time we did it, about one in seven survivors said they had not told anyone. That has gone up to one in twenty in just a year and a half.’’
Due to increased attention in the media, and the efforts of campus administrators, survivors are feeling more comfortable talking to people about their experiences and it is becoming less of a taboo topic on this campus.
Title IX itself is only thirty-seven words long. It became law in 1972, during the Nixon administration.
Title IX states that”No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
The Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos is now looking to roll back changes that were made in 2011. In a September, 2017, speech at George Mason University, DeVos said this was ‘’in order to protect the rights of the accused.’’
Title IX became a major issue in 2011 when the Department of Education issued what they called a “guidance” to colleges and universities. A guidance is not an official regulation, but federal funding will be cut to the schools that do not follow it.
After explaining this situation to students, Vinik continued to tell them how these new guidelines will influence the Catholic University campus.
Under the 2011 Obama guidance, all colleges had to use an evidentiary standard of preponderance of the evidence, which is 51 percent. The other common standard used is clear and convincing, or to be 75 percent sure of a defendant’s guilt.
The Trump administration said colleges now have the choice to use either the 51 percent standard or the 75 percent standard. This will have no effect on Catholic University because the university used preponderance of the evidence prior to 2011.
Vinik stated, ‘’We will continue to use preponderance of the evidence and we will not change unless the law changes.”
The second guidance the Trump administration offered was that everything from the start of the investigation of sexual assault to the hearing has to be completed in 60 days.
‘’That is a pretty aggressive time frame,’’ Vinik admitted to the group of students.
“We are still going to try to do it in 60 days,” he said. “So the impact of this is not really anything.”
He also noted that ‘’on complex cases, or if something happens before Christmas, for example, we might not get it done in 60 days, but that’s our goal.’’
A third guidance offered involves gag orders. Catholic University does not issue gag orders. Students can talk about incidents that took place; there are no gag orders issued by the university to stop them from doing so. Vinik explained this policy in contrast to some other schools which do have gag orders.
The fourth way Catholic will be impacted by this guidance is by requiring a written notice to both parties in the case of sexual violence, which will explain all of their rights and responsibilities.
The most significant change is how the rule of mediation will be affected. If a student does not want to go through a hearing but they do not want the other student to go free of punishment, that student would take this route.
Vinik explained, ‘’The key to mediation is any party can pull out at any time. So if either party said ‘I don’t like the way this is going’ or they are not comfortable with this and want a hearing, then that is the end of mediation.
“So we are probably going to use mediation in more cases than we have used in the past. There are certain types of cases we will not use it. We will not use it in cases of serious sexual violence, we will not use it in cases of rape, but it gets very hard to draw the line.”
It is important to Vinik that in these cases, both parties have negotiated through a mediator and are on the same page.
Leigh Calotta, a senator representing the nursing school, went to the Town Hall meeting in hopes of learning about the recourses our school offers.
“Going to the Town Hall meeting I was hoping to gain more information on how the university acts on sexual assault cases. I think that Title IX is a topic that all students need to be more educated on in order to be an active bystander.’’
As a member of PEERS, Katie Troilo was well versed in Title IX before attending the Town Hall.
“I think that the changes to Title IX will have little, if any, effect on the way CUA processes Title IX violations… That letter and the proposed changes can seem scary or sensationalized by the media but I am confident in the way our University handles these violations and I am equally reassured by our model of support.”