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New guidance may change how universities handle sexual misconduct investigations

Sam Dunaway | News Editor

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that there will be changes to the guidance on how schools handle investigations regarding sexual misconduct on college campuses.

On Sept. 22, DeVos declared a withdrawal of the 2014 Questions and Answers on Campus Sexual Misconduct document, which described a school’s responsibility to address issues of sexual misconduct. An interim Q&A document was released that takes the place of the 2014 document, as well as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter that was used as a guideline under the Title IX law. The interim Q&A allows schools the option to have a higher standard of evidence in an investigation of sexual misconduct.

The 2011 Dear Colleague letter required schools to find a preponderance of the evidence in sexual misconduct investigations to determine guilt.

According to the Association for Student Conduct Administration, a preponderance of evidence is found when “the proof need only show that the facts are more likely to be than not so.” In other words, more than 50 percent of the evidence must point to guilt.

As of Sept. 22, schools now have the option to hold a clear and convincing standard of evidence in cases of sexual misconduct. This is defined by the ASCA as, “that proof which results in reasonable certainty of the truth.”

“To implement sustainable solutions, institutions must be mindful of the rights of every student,” DeVos stated in a speech on Sept. 7. “No one benefits from a system that does not have the public’s trust — not survivors, not accused students, not institutions and not the public.”

Western Oregon University’s staff and personnel have not yet released information regarding this policy and if it will change the way campus sexual misconduct cases are handled.

Abby’s House, Center for Equity & Gender Justice, is a resource and referral center at Western. According to the university’s website, Abby’s House strives to promote equity and non-violence through educational programming, referral services and information.

Dr. Addington, Director of Abby’s House, encourages, “if students have a particular issue or concern they want to talk about or figure out what to do next, they can come in and talk to us.”

When asked if the potential policy change will affect the resources and support given by Abby’s House, she replied, “No. Abby’s House is a survivor center in our approach to advocacy. If someone comes in and is a survivor of gender-based violence of some kind, we will do our very best to be helpful and supportive all the same. So that part won’t change.”

“When things like this come out, when public officials make statements regarding assault in any way, that affects people,” Addington said. “So it could change our day to day in Abby’s House in terms of who is coming in and who is seeking that support, but regardless of what the policies are, we will provide that support. These things do affect folks that need help and that’s what we’re here for.”

 

Contact the author at journalnews@wou.edu