On Sept. 22, the Department of Education announced that it is rescinding Title IX guidance from the Obama administration on how schools should handle sexual assault cases.
Title IX is a federal law often associated with removing barriers for women in areas of academics and athletics. More recently, it has also guided academic institutions on sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Specifically, the Department of Education is withdrawing the “Dear Colleague Letter” from 2011.
The Department of Education had issued Interim Guidance and a Q&A that gave recommendations on how schools should proceed.
In response to this announcement, Wake Forest held a forum entitled “What’s Next with Title IX” on Oct. 4. The forum featured a panel of people with different backgrounds, including Penny Rue, the vice president for campus life, Tanya Jachimiak, director of the Title IX Office, Daniel Paredes, assistant director of the University Counseling Center, and Jennifer Martin, the chief assistant district attorney of Forsyth county. The discussion was moderated by Paige Meltzer, director of the Women’s Center.
To begin, each panelist shared some of their thoughts regarding Title IX and their purpose at the discussion.
Rue spoke first, discussing the historical context of Title IX. When Rue first began working in the 1980’s, she fought against sexual assault on campuses, even though it was not a topic at the forefront of many people’s minds. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Department of Education linked sexual assault and Title IX, said Rue.
Jachimiak spoke about the Title IX Office at Wake Forest, which opened in November of 2014. She described the office as an unbiased place that oversees cases of gender discrimination as well as sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct includes stalking, dating violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Title IX Office also works extensively with the Women’s Center, SAFE Office, LGBTQ Center and Campus Life.
Paredes enforced the idea that the Counseling Center is a useful resource for students, especially in terms of sexual misconduct.
Martin discussed the legality behind sexual assault cases. She said that a person who has experienced sexual assault “does not need to prosecute, but there is an advantage to reporting a crime to local law enforcement” because in their investigation, they can go about collecting evidence and information that campus police may not necessarily be able to.
Next they moved on to an anonymous Q&A portion where audience members were invited to submit their own questions.
Questions ranged in topic from the potential scopes of changes to Title IX to how a person goes about pursuing a criminal charges.
In terms of potential changes, Jachimiak explained that one thing that has the potential to change would be the right of appeal for both the accused and the complained.
Next, the panel discussed what would happen now when a student reports to the Title IX office. Rue and Paredes expressed that students should know the different types of resources available to them, especially in terms of which are confidential. Jachimiak said that first and foremost, they want to ensure the safety of a student and help them get the resources they need.
“It’s important that for a student reporting to have control over the process and how they want to proceed,” Jachimiak said.
Martin talked about how the Title IX Office, Wake Forest Police Department and Winston-Salem Police Department work together when a person wants to pursue criminal charges. It is a personal choice if a person would like to report to the local authorities versus campus police, as Winston-Salem police have jurisdiction on campus. However, Title IX investigations are separate from police investigations. Unless they were asked to, the Title IX Office will not report to the police.
The final question regarded the steps that Wake Forest is taking to make a culture change, in terms of the large party culture that stems from Greek life. Rue said that while students should be able to have fun, they must learn to prioritize their safety. They must be active bystanders. Paredes plugged other easy, accessible resources such as the LiveSafe app.
The panel closed with a reiteration of the prioritization of a student’s safety and that Wake Forest’s sexual misconduct policies are still in place as they review the new Interim Guidance.
Sophomore Mikayla Thomas, who works in the Title IX Office, said how thankful she is that these resources on campus prioritize a student’s safety. She also spoke about how all students should be knowledgeable about these policies.
“I had never taken into consideration how important it was to read these policies until I actually read them. I realize that it might not affect me personally at this day and time but it might affect another student. It’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for each other” Thomas said.