This week, President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Education to review guidance on Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions. That means changes could be coming to how colleges and universities handle sexual assault cases.
University of Oregon psychology professor and founder of the nonprofit Center for Institutional Courage, Jennifer Freyd advised a federal task force that helped inform Title IX guidance released by the Obama administration in 2014. She says there are several key changes by the Trump administration that she’d like to see the Department of Education reverse. Among the issues, are guidelines that bolstered the rights of people accused of sexual assault and limited the definition of sexual harassment and misconduct. In addition, Freyd says the Trump administration narrowed the jurisdiction of sexual misconduct cases.
“Students who are sexually assaulted at a party that might involve a fraternity or an athletic team or some other group that is occurring off-campus may fall outside of the jurisdiction,” Freyd said. “And yet we know that’s where so many of the assaults actually occur.”
There is one change that Freyd hopes the Biden Department of Education keeps, however, relaxing the requirement that all staff qualifies as mandatory reporters. Freyd says more students are likely to report sexual assault if they know they have someone they can talk to in private about it without being reported.
Title IX is an important tool to adjudicate sexual harassment and assault after it occurs, Freyd said, but the ultimate goal should be prevention.
“I hope we see more effort into educating people in a deep way,” Freyd said, “so that we start to change the culture that underlies these sorts of assaults and harassment.”