Ethan Bachand ’22
On November 16, the United States Department of Education made a press release in regard to their new policy under Title IX. The new changes provide more rights to those who are accused and limit the definition of sexual assault. The proposed amendments come at a turbulent time for the College of the Holy Cross, as a petition has simultaneously been submitted to “improve current survivor-support infrastructure”.
The current national revisions are based around three key components: requiring the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to comply with the First Amendment, restoring appeals for complaints, and eliminating an earlier section to the Case Processing Manual, which stated that the OCR could dismiss a complaint included in a pattern as to not stress the OCR’s resources.
Public concern with the alterations stems from the added rights given to those who are accused of sexual assault or misconduct. The second provision can be utilized not only by the plaintiff, but also by the defendant in the case of an appeal.
The appending rules have been posted to the Federal Register, where there will be a 60-day public comment period for anyone to speak on the matter. After the 60 days have expired, the Department of Education will revisit the subject and take any proposed changes under consideration.
Tracy Kennedy, the Director of Title IX Initiatives and Title IX Coordinator at Holy Cross, sent an email to the campus community to inform students, faculty, and staff about the impending changes and how they could affect the College. In an interview with The Spire, Kennedy stated “We really want to know what our community’s thoughts are on some very new ways in which to do this work. We are seeing with the proposed regulations that it could represent a drastic change to the way in which we do our work now, and so we don’t want to make an assumption from our perspective ‘Oh this is what we think this may look like’”.
Kennedy was not the only one suggesting an evaluation of the school’s policy. In a statement issued to the paper, President Father Boroughs S.J. said, “We will carefully review the proposed regulations. I hope that members of the community will share their thoughts and feedback with the Title IX office as we want to ensure that the College’s response reflects the interest of our community. I am committed to building a community based on trust, integrity and dignity for all, and we will continue to have the difficult conversations, and do the hard work, to achieve those goals.”
In response to these recent proposals by the Department of Education, as well as other incidents that have surfaced over the past few months at Holy Cross, a group of students have started and submitted a petition. It calls for, amongst other things, major changes to the way the college conducts sexual misconduct cases. The form is headed by the curators of the @sexualassaultonthehill Instagram account.
The list of demands includes, but is not limited to: a report of all incidents since December of 2015, the hiring of independent parties to conduct all investigations, any staff who have engaged in sexual misconduct to be relieved of their responsibilities, a notification within 48 hours of any dangerous situation to students, a stance on the proposed Title IX changes, and a working group “that identifies and implements best practices for issues relating to sexual violence”.
Speaking about what she believes are issues that need to be fixed in the school policy, Mrs. Kennedy added, “As we look at how best to serve our community, it is important to think about how we might insure reporting, how we might look at prevention, and how we might address the concerns of our community members.”
“We certainly are seeing in the last several months particularly, but it is something we are aware of over time”, she said, “We understand there are a lot of concerns with access to reporting, we understand there may be a lot of barriers not only in accessing our services and office but also knowing that there are steps you can take.”
Changes are already underway at the Title IX Office in order to provide better service to the Holy Cross communities. The school is in the process of hiring a full-time investigator and has already added a new position with the hiring of Assistant Director Sheryl Rodgers.
Continuing from his early statement, Boroughs added, “During the ENGAGE Summit, our community demonstrated its caring, compassion and willingness to tackle tough conversations for the betterment of our campus and the wider world. We heard constructive, and at times challenging, feedback on how we as an institution are responding to many significant matters, including sexual misconduct and assault. I expect those conversations to continue in many forms, and I am encouraged by our students speaking out on these challenging issues”.
The debate regarding the future of Title IX not only at Holy Cross but also nationally is not going to go away any time soon. As both administrators and students work around the clock to find the correct path, there is common goal as everyone is working towards bettering our community on the hill. The question is, how are we going to get there?
Photo by Zoé Petit ‘22