Preventing Sexual Assault group petitions for revisions to UMD’s Title IX guidelines

The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct is located on the third floor of Susquehanna Hall. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Preventing Sexual Assault, a University of Maryland student group, released a petition and set of demands in late August that call for revisions of the university’s recently updated Title IX policy and procedures, as well as the inclusion of more student voices in conversations surrounding sexual misconduct.

The university released its revised Title IX guidelines Aug. 14 in order to comply with new federal regulations that went into effect the same day. The regulations, which allow for the cross-examination of all parties during sexual misconduct proceedings, have drawn condemnation from students and administrators who worry that the requirement could prove traumatizing for survivors.

The petition, which has garnered about 550 signatures from students in all colleges since its inception, acknowledged three positives in the university’s revised guidelines: Allowing cross-examinations to be conducted virtually, requiring university employees to inform the Title IX coordinator if they hear of an assault and including the preponderance of evidence standard, which indicates that the burden of proof is met if there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the incident occurred.

But beyond those measures, the group, led by president Lizzie Mafrici, took issue with several aspects of the guidelines, citing unclear language. 

“The national regulations were eight leaps backwards, without a doubt,” said Mafrici, a senior public policy and women’s studies major. “Now is not the time to make regulations more vague and confusing.”

Specifically, the guidelines state that the university has jurisdiction over an incident that “occurs on University premises, in any University facility, or on property owned or controlled by the University,” without explicit mention of Greek life housing — something the group believes is unclear. 

But OCRSM director and Title IX Coordinator Grace Karmiol explained that Greek life housing is part of the university’s jurisdiction, even if it isn’t explicitly stated. In a statement, Karmiol wrote that the university’s guidelines go beyond the education department’s regulations, since they also include incidents in off-campus housing and bars.

[UMD revises policy for sexual misconduct investigations as federal regulations take effect]

The demands, which Mafrici primarily wrote, also address the time needed to complete sexual misconduct investigations. The revised guidelines state that investigations should be completed within 120 business days. In the past, the university aimed to resolve cases within 60 business days. The average case resolution time is also no longer included in OCRSM’s annual report.

The federal regulations stated that the time frame must be “reasonably prompt,” with no specific time allotment. 

The language in the guidelines is also heavily gendered, and there is no use of the word “force,” which is commonly included in incidents involving transgender individuals, PSA member Hailey Chaikin, a junior communication major, said.

The power to push for changes in the guidelines’ language rests in the hands of the University Senate. In August, university President Darryll Pines approved an interim version of the policy, and the Senate is now tasked with reviewing the guidelines.

The Senate’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee will be charged with reviewing the policy, and the Student Conduct, Faculty Affairs and Staff Affairs Committees will jointly review the procedures, University Senate Director Reka Montfort wrote in an email.

The committees will begin meeting this month to develop background information on the policy and procedures. The last date for the committees to send recommendations to the greater Senate body is March 30, which should allow the Senate to consider the recommendation in its last business meeting of the year in April.

“This is a comprehensive and thorough review,” Montfort wrote. “We want to ensure that the committees have enough time to address such a complex policy.”

Beyond revising the language in the guidelines, PSA is also pressing the university to include student voices in Title IX conversations. 

Over the summer, a group  of faculty, staff and students worked to craft the revised Title IX guidelines. But only one student was a part of the group: Naomi Lichtenstein, the SGA’s director of sexual misconduct prevention.

But Lichtenstein said the meetings, which were supposed to take place twice a week, were often rescheduled, sometimes at the last minute. When the meetings did occur, she was not usually briefed beforehand on what the meetings would entail, and at times she had “no clue what was going on.”

[More than 900 UMD students signed PSA’s petition protesting Betsy Devos’ Title IX changes]

“To me, the fact that even I from SGA felt a little neglected, [the] little attention to student opinion was kind of scary and uncomfortable,” said Lichtenstein, a junior environmental science and policy major. “I don’t know how much impact I really had.”

Lichtenstein also noted that she is not representative of the student population. To her, one person isn’t enough to represent the student body.

“As much as I tried to make sure that I was speaking for everyone, … I can’t,” Lichtenstein said. “Yes, I’m the director of sexual misconduct prevention for SGA. But that doesn’t mean that I’m a proper representation for the entire student body.”

In her statement, Karmiol said the office is actively looking for ways to engage the community  in sexual misconduct proceedings. 

PSA is also calling for a reinstatement of the Standing Review Committee, which allowed students to oversee cases that could result in suspension or expulsion. As a result of the new cross-examination requirement, OCRSM decided that those presiding over sexual misconduct proceedings should have a legal background, leading to the elimination of the SRC.

Students on the SRC have been invited to serve as “support persons” to either party during sexual misconduct proceedings, and members of the Student Conduct Committee can also hear appeals cases, according to Karmiol’s statement. OCRSM is also “actively soliciting feedback” from the Title IX Advisory Board, which includes representatives from 40 student organizations.

OCRSM has responded to some of PSA’s requests in the past.

In May, PSA launched a petition titled “Hands off Title IX,” calling on the university to maintain protections for sexual misconduct survivors. Several of the requests, such as including the preponderance of evidence standard, came to fruition.

But not all of the requested policy changes were met, and Mafrici hopes the new petition will push students to the forefront of the conversation.

“Students think that there are people in place in our university like who will do this work for us. And although that should be the case, unfortunately it’s not always the case,” Mafrici said. “Students must push our voices into the conversation if they’re not already there.”

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