Too afraid to ask: How could federal changes to Title IX policy affect NU?

    At a time that Northwestern’s own Title IX office is undergoing structural change, federal Title IX policy is now shifting away from Obama-era guidelines.

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced on Thursday that her department is adopting new regulations to replace Obama-era guidelines for handling sexual misconduct cases. The changes are coming because of “a lack of due process” for those involved in the cases, particularly those accused of misconduct, she said; she went as far to call them “kangaroo courts” in her speech at George Mason University.

    For the time being, though, it’s not quite clear what this announcement exactly means. Any policy proposals will have to go through a due process of its own called “notice-and-comment rule-making” – legalese for a procedure in which the Department of Education (ED) proposes a rule and then lets the public comment on it.

    So, in other words, no one really knows much apart from the fact that change is on its way. Here’s what we know so far about how the changes will affect the Title IX office at Northwestern. This article will be updated with information as it comes in.

    1. So far, the Department of Education hasn’t sent NU any information about how they need to comply with the new regulations.

    Apart from DeVos’ speech, Northwestern administrators know very little about what the new guidelines mean for campus. Dwight Hamilton, associate vice president for equity, said that while administrators watched the address, they haven’t gotten any further instructions and are unable to comment yet about what the changes mean at NU specifically.

    “Northwestern will continue, however, to adhere to our values and will act in ways that protect the security and integrity of our community, including working to prevent and address sexual violence,” Hamilton said in an email. (Interim Title IX Coordinator Amanda DaSilva has not returned request for comment.)

    In the meantime, though, the Department will clarify how schools can fulfill their obligations under the currently existing laws; the ED’s Office of Civil Rights will provide support and technical assistance to schools, a department spokesperson told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    2. The Title IX office is being restructured, and Hamilton will soon assume the duties of Title IX Coordinator.

    Apart from former Title IX coordinator Joan Slavin’s departure at the end of the school year, the office might not look the same in the future. While DaSilva has served as interim director throughout the summer, Hamilton said that the University is “considering different options regarding restructuring the Title IX office to best meet the needs of the Northwestern community.” It’s unclear exactly what “restructuring” means, though; Hamilton said that they’re still in the process of figuring out what that will entail.

    DaSilva’s role as interim director will end on September 15, Hamilton said, when he will assume her role. He said he aims for the analysis to be completed by early fall.

    3. Policy experts remain unsure what this means for universities across the country.

    Many groups and politicians have been quick to condemn DeVos’ remarks as hostile toward sexual assault survivors.

    Protesters outside the auditorium also echoed this anger.

    However, don’t be mistaken; Title IX’s protections for sexual misconduct cases are not being rolled back altogether, but the guidelines around how colleges will enforce the law will shift. And policy experts say that there’s too much murkiness in the specifics to be alarmed right now. “It would be a mistake to read detailed policy outcomes into this,” Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, told The Chronicle.


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