NATHAN STEPHANY, TRUMPET STAFF WRITER
Changes to Title IX implementation and enforcement this spring mandated how all schools react to and investigate sexual harassment and assault on college campuses, including Wartburg.
The rules were required to start by the fall. The major changes mostly affect how and where Wartburg can investigate sexual misconduct on campus. Title IX refers to part of the Education Amendment of 1972, a federal law that protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in federally funded educational institutions. On May 6, colleges and universities around the country reacted to a startling series of changes mandated by the federal government.
“I think it’s safe to say something changed for everyone, but depending on what your prior policy looked like, it could be a complete paradigm shift for people,” Karen Thalacker, Title IX coordinator at Wartburg, said. “There are almost too many changes, both large and small, to detail.”
Under the new rule, sexual misconduct, even between two Wartburg students, that occurs off campus is no longer under the umbrella of Title IX if it did not occur as part of a college-sponsored activity. This does not mean that the misconduct would not be investigated by Wartburg. The student who was considered the perpetrator could still face a conduct process.
“It means they would go through the regular conduct procedure rather than the procedure set up by the Title IX policy,” Thalacker said.
One change, garnering significant criticism from victim advocates nationwide, is the requirement of a live hearing. Under Wartburg’s former policy, any sexual misconduct was investigated, a report was filed and that report was reviewed by an independent third party who, after considering the evidence, would make the final verdict.
Under the new policy, after the report is issued, any sexual misconduct case would then proceed to a live hearing where both parties would be cross examined. After the hearing process, Wartburg would then make the final verdict.
The final change mandated by the Title IX alterations changes how schools must now view any students accused of sexual misconduct. The new rules state that the accused party must be officially presumed by the school to be innocent until a final decision is rendered. Under the old Wartburg policy, there were no assumptions in either the direction of guilty or not guilty for the accused.
While that is a major alteration, one aspect that remains unchanged is the amount of evidence required to render a verdict, according to Thalacker. It falls in line with Wartburg’s past policy of relying on the preponderance of evidence.
Another concern about the changes is that they may affect the victim’s decisions to come forward. Thalacker said she hopes that those individuals will find the strength to report misconduct regardless.
“There are people who view these new regulations as much too restrictive when it comes to those who have experienced sexual misconduct, but we want people to know Wartburg remains committed to getting people the help they need, as well as the full, impartial process to adjudicate these claims,” Thalacker said.
The changes required by Betsy Devos, the U.S. secretary of education, and the current presidential administration are unusual compared to previous changes in Title IX proceedings due to both the sheer amount of changes and the amount of time schools were given to implement them. It was also widely believed that the announced changes would be delayed due to the stress COVID-19 has placed on most schools.
At Wartburg, resident assistants have been fully briefed on the new changes to the procedure. Any reports to the police of incidents at Wartburg are always up to the person reporting.
“I am a neutral person in the process,” Thalacker said. “I don’t advocate for the person who’s made the complaint, I don’t advocate for the accused. As we all adapt to this new process and this new way of doing things, we will be as clear as we can with our communication.”