April 4, 2011
In an effort to make schools and colleges a safer place, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today a set of guidelines and responsibilities to prevent--and address--sexual violence.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the guidance comes as a "Dear Colleague" letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. While it does not include any groundbreaking instructions, the letter does provide a more detailed overview of existing Title IX regulations, which prohibit sex-based discrimination--on and off campus--at any institution that receives federal funding.
"Students across the country deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn. That's why we're taking new steps to help our nation's schools, universities, and colleges end the cycle of sexual violence on campus.
Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary of education who heads the Office of Civil Rights, told The New York Times that a 2007 survey of undergraduate women at two public universities found that 19 percent of respondents had been victims of sexual violence while at college. Furthermore, Ali told the Chicago Tribune that one in five women are victims of sexual assault while in college and more than one in 10 high school girls are coerced into having sex.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in addition to providing examples of what institutions can and cannot do under Title IX, the guidelines state that schools and colleges must: distribute a notice of nondiscrimination to students and employees; designate a Title IX coordinator to oversee complaints; and adopt and publish procedures that provide "prompt and equitable resolution" of complaints. The letter also stated that all allegations should be considered under the "more likely than not" standard of evidence, meaning that "it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred" rather than the stricter "it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred" standard.
According to The New York Times, the letter follows an announcement that the Office of Civil Rights would investigate a complaint against Yale University. The complaint, which was 26-pages and was filed by 16 students and alumni, stated that the university failed to respond effectively to several incidents of sexual assault. Ali told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the timing of the two incidents was only coincidental.
Experts said enforcing the guidelines will require additional training, reported the Chicago Tribune. Still, many believe the recommendations are relevant and reasonable.
"If 1 out of every 5 students was robbed during their college career, don't you think a university would do something to stop it?" questioned Gary Margolis, managing partner at Margolis Healy & Associates, a firm that specializes in higher education safety and security.
Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff
"Biden to Discuss New Guidelines About Campus Sex Crimes," NYTimes.com, April 4, 2011, Sam Dillon
"Education Dept. Issues Guidance for Sexual-Assault Investigations," chronicle.com, April 4, 2011, Lauren Sieben
"Obama administration tackling sexual violence," chicagotribune.com. April 5, 2011, Todd Lightly and Stacy St. Clair