University of Maryland students and activists say proposed changes to Title IX that would expand protections for transgender students and sexual misconduct survivors are a good start, but more needs to be done in support.
The Biden administration released its proposed changes to Title IX on June 23 — the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation. The deadline for public comment on these proposals is Sept. 12.
The measures — if passed — would compel schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, bar gender identity-based harassment and ensure others are using their correct pronouns, according to the proposal.
The changes seem likely to protect transgender students, but that could depend largely on how the policy intends to “help queer liberation instead of queer assimilation,” said Sol, a student who agreed to be identified by a pseudonym and a leader at TransU, a support group for transgender, nonbinary and gender-questioning students at this university.
Creating strict definitions of gender and sexuality has the advantage of creating legislation around those definitions, they said. However, people still will have to adhere to labels which may not apply to them, they said.
“The main problem that a lot of trans people face is that because their experience of gender is so just nebulous … they don’t fit into one specific category of how to identify,” they said.
Sol said they don’t interact with the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, the main body that enforces Title IX at this university. They usually discuss any discrimination they face with the LGBTQ+ Equity Center.
Sol said the university does a pretty good job of assisting transgender students compared to other universities.
As part of the changes, the U.S. Department of Education proposal also expands the definition of sexual harassment to include “unwelcome sex-based conduct” that restricts or denies a person’s ability to participate or benefit from a program and creates a damaging environment, according to the proposal’s fact sheet.
The proposed changes also include removing the live-hearing requirement, during which those accused of misconduct are able to cross-examine the person who made the allegation. However, colleges would still be allowed to use hearings if they choose.
Proponents of removing the hearing say it’s not essential for a fair process, while critics maintain it’s the only way the accused get to defend themselves.
Senior aerospace engineering major Brian Tinkler praised the changes, which would remove some of the barriers that prevent victims and survivors from receiving support, he said.
Tinkler — the co-president of Preventing Sexual Assault, a support and advocacy group working to change the culture surrounding sexual assault at this university — said sexual assault survivors having to recount their experience to university officials, sometimes multiple times, can be very difficult. Direct support for those students could be beneficial, he said.
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“If they’re on the way of making it easier for students to reach support access … then I think it’ll be for the better,” Tinkler said.
Tinkler also said the investigation system at this university needs to be simplified to make the process less tenuous for survivors.
The current process starts with a report, then a formal complaint. After the complaint, there are three options: an appeal, an informal resolution or an investigation.
The appeal leads to a review by the OCRSM, which determines the outcome.
In an informal resolution, a mediator helps both parties negotiate a resolution that includes interventions and “remedies.”
If the respondent party does not make an appeal, the OCRSM could launch an investigation into the claims. Under this option, the office releases a draft report both parties can review and respond to. After the report is finished, it’s presented to the parties during the adjudication stage. It’s also during this stage that a hearing is held, and the OCRSM determines if sanctions can be made. Either party can make an appeal afterward.
This process can take up to 120 days, which PSA said is the university’s window for reaching a resolution after receiving a formal complaint.
“More immediate action from the university can be done in terms of opening the investigation or bringing in the police to do whatever they need to do. I think that could be happening a lot sooner after it’s reported,” Tinkler said.
Senior marketing major Amanda Sherman echoed Tinkler, saying making the process less daunting would help survivors and hold more perpetrators accountable.
“Reporting is really important, so we can get an accurate number of what’s happening as well as hold perpetrators accountable,” said Sherman, who is also a co-president of PSA. “Because oftentimes perpetrators will commit assaults multiple times.”
Data on repeat sexual offenses is scarce, and data on repeat sexual offenders can vary greatly.
In 2019, researchers from Union University, Bowling Green State University and the University of Redlands studied the pervasiveness of repeat sexual offenses while under the influence of alcohol. Of the 2,071 cases of sexual assault they found about 950, or about 46 percent of the incidents, were committed by students who admitted to sexual assault 10 or more times.
A 2015 JAMA Pediatrics study found out of 1,642 men, almost 25 percent of those who committed sexual assault were repeat offenders.
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A 2020 research paper in the Psychology of Violence journal found 64 percent of participants who experienced sexual assault in college also reported repeat victimization.
Sherman also praised the Biden administration’s move to have Title IX cover incidents that don’t occur on campus.
Katie Lawson, a university spokesperson, said on behalf of the OCRSM that the university does not plan to submit comments on the proposal.
“I can confirm that the proposed changes provide increased protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome the affirmation,” Lawson said in an email.
Tinkler criticized this decision, stating that missing the opportunity to acknowledge and receive feedback would be a mistake.
“[It’s] probably not in the university’s best interest to just ignore anything that people have to say about the issue,” he said.
In October 2021, university President Darryll Pines said he didn’t think sexual assault in Greek Life on campus was a “big problem.” Tinkler and Sherman think those comments are indicative of the administration’s misguided approach to the issue.
Sherman said the university’s support — though good — is the bare minimum.
“The administration itself is walking on thin ice,” she said. “I know a lot of people would really appreciate it if the school would work a little bit harder to show that the administration has got their back and is in their corner.”
Neena Chaudhry, the general counsel and a senior adviser for education at the National Women’s Law Center, applauded the proposed changes. She thinks the new laws would undo some of the harmful rules enacted during the Trump administration such as limiting the definition of sexual harassment.
Chaudhry said the Department of Education should further focus on enforcing protections for other underserved populations, such as pregnant and parenting students who also fall under Title IX.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to make sure that all schools are focusing on all these areas, and treating their students fairly,” Chaudhry said.
The Department of Education will issue the final rule on whether the proposed changes will be implemented.