The Department of Education guidelines for handling sexual assault cases at universities continues to change, but Western’s investigative procedures and resulting punishments need to be made more firm.
In 2011, the The Department of Education under the Obama administration issued a directive for colleges to comply with Title IX, a law that prevents the discrimination of sex in educational institutions that receive federal money.
Title IX allowed universities to be more involved in resolving sexual assault cases, where before it was up to police to handle the specifics of the case. This system was far from perfect — if an assault was reported and the police couldn’t make a case, there was always a chance sexual assault survivors could see their attackers on campus.
The Obama administration attempted to fix this problem with guidelines for universities that include adopting a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, no longer cross-examining accusers, and allowing the accuser to appeal not-guilty verdicts.
In September of 2017, the Department of Education under the Trump administration announced that it’s rescinding Title IX guidance.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argued, “schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment.”
But rape and sexual assault have been redefined in a broader way — as sex with someone without consent — for good reason.
It’s not the definition that’s the problem, but finding a corresponding approach for punishment that responds adequately to the severity of individual cases.
The ramifications of rolling back Title IX guidance is that universities can weaken procedures and investigations for sexual assault. With Western’s past questionable decisions surrounding lax punishments of sexual assault perpetrators, this cannot be an excuse to treat sexual assault lightly.
On one side, the university claims community safety is of utmost importance and shows support and concern for rape victims through Western’s Prevention & Wellness Services and programs such as Consultation and Sexual Assault Support.
On the other hand, the university has readmitted perpetrators of sexual assault and given out punishments that survivors find too forgiving.
In 2015, Connor Griesemer was charged and pleaded guilty to a gross-misdemeanor charge of fourth-degree assault. In May 2017, he was readmitted.
Or the more recent case of the Huxley College professor Paul Stangl, who allegedly sexually harassed a teaching assistant during a class trip in June 2016. A university investigation found Stangl’s behavior not severe enough to be considered an incident of sexual harassment. Only after the case was reopened in March 2017 did the university decide to issue a punishment — Stangl will be barred from teaching field courses until summer session of 2020.
In response to the Title IX rollback, and especially in regard to the concerns of the Western community, Western needs to issue stricter punishments regarding sexual assault cases.
Forgiving sexual assault perpetuates an environment of fear among victims and the campus community while doing nothing to solve preexisting issues.