University of Maryland community members are optimistic that Joe Biden’s administration will revitalize federal Title IX regulations — but it may take months for college campuses to see changes.
In May, the Trump administration released its long-awaited regulations, much to the condemnation of students and administration officials. Community members particularly objected to the requirement that colleges had to hold live hearings that allow for the cross-examination of sexual misconduct survivors.
“I was very uncomfortable. I was very sad and a bit distraught,” Naomi Lichtenstein, the Student Government Association’s sexual misconduct prevention director, said of her reaction to the regulations. “I’m optimistic about a lot of things, but I’m also simultaneously hesitant to see how much attention is paid to certain nuances.”
Biden has signaled a desire to overturn the Trump administration’s regulations. He said on his campaign website that “backstepping on Title IX is unacceptable,” and pledged to expand survivors’ options to report sexual misconduct.
The cross-examination requirement is among the changes that community members are pushing for removal.
“This is not a court case. We’re not a court,” university President Darryll Pines said in a January interview. “I think the Biden administration will make really sound recommendations. I think they care about the victims’ rights.”
Grace Karmiol, director of this university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, worried the cross-examination requirement would have a “chilling effect” on the number of complainants coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations. In the months since the regulations went into effect, though, the university has “found that complainants are not reluctant to come forward,” Karmiol said.
Biden’s campaign website also stated that his administration would seek to restore the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which outlined how colleges should conduct Title IX proceedings. The letter told more than 7,000 colleges to use the preponderance of evidence standard, which states that the burden of proof is met if there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the incident occurred, in sexual misconduct cases.
But community members hope the Biden administration will go beyond Obama-era guidance.
“I hope that the Biden administration sees that though we were pushed backwards, I hope we can go five steps forward,” said Elizabeth Mafrici, the president of the student group Preventing Sexual Assault.
Specifically, Mafrici wants the federal government to push for more resources for students who do not want to go through the Title IX process. She hopes resources such as this university’s CARE to Stop Violence program, which provides free and confidential support to sexual misconduct survivors, become more widespread.
Meanwhile, Lichtenstein hopes the Biden administration engages more with students when crafting its policies.
“I would be happy to see if they had some actual perspective that had experienced, or actually included testimonies from individuals who identify as trans and have been survivors of sexual assault,” the junior environmental science and policy major said.
But it will take time to overturn the Trump-era regulations, said Karmiol.
The Trump administration issued federal regulations on Title IX — a contrast from the Obama administration, which issued federal guidance for colleges. Federal regulations are harder to overturn, Karmiol said.
In order to overturn the Trump administration’s regulations, the Biden administration will have to undergo a federal rule-making process, in which the public has a chance to comment on a proposed rule, Karmiol said.
Karmiol expects changes to Title IX to come within 18 months.
“It won’t happen immediately,” she said.
This timeframe has been hard for Mafrici to grapple with. She has been working for years to improve Title IX policies on this university’s campus, she said. And since she’s a senior, it’s unlikely that Title IX changes will come while she is still a student.
“I’m very disheartened by how long it’s gonna take,” the public policy and women’s studies major said. “I spent four years banging my head against the wall under a Trump administration.”
But there is a possibility that the Biden administration will change Title IX policies through executive action, Karmiol said.
For example, Biden could sign an executive order that would remove the cross-examination mandate. But Karmiol acknowledged that federal regulations remain more powerful since they cannot be immediately overridden by another presidential administration.
But it’s still difficult to know exactly how the process will play out, Karmiol said.
“It’s hard to speculate what’s gonna happen,” Karmiol said. “It’s hard to have a crystal ball and see into the future.”
The Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct can be reached at 301-405-1142 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The crisis line for the CARE to Stop Violence program is 301-741-3442.