U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Devos has proposed changes to Title IX that would make it more difficult for the accused to be held responsible. GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR VIA CC BY SA 2.0

Update: Sept. 24, 2018, 4:17 p.m.

This story has been changed from its original form to include the statement sent by Director of Title IX and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator at Stony Brook, Marjorlie Leonard. 

Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, has proposed changes to Title IX that would narrow the definition of sexual assault, making it more difficult for the accused to be held responsible in a 120-page leaked document. The proposals were revealed in an article published by The New York Times on Aug. 29.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational program that receives public funding. When the law was signed by Richard Nixon in 1972, it was primarily for women’s athletic scholarships and equal opportunity to play, but in the 1990s, a series of Supreme Court decisions concluded that it also applied to sexual harassment and assault in all educational settings, according to information available on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

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Prior to 2011, there was no way to enforce the protections of Title IX, according to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Department of Education under the Obama administration made it so that any university that failed to uphold the protections of Title IX would be stripped of its federal funding. These changes were reversed last fall after President Trump came into office.

The proposed changes would reduce liability for colleges, only holding them accountable for formal complaints filed through outside authorities. Schools also would no longer be responsible for investigating instances of assault that happen off campus.

David Clark, the vice president of Stony Brook’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, stated that the proposed changes would hurt students and survivors.

“It gives the school more power,” Clark said. ”The Obama administration made all faculty and staff mandatory reporters to the Title IX office, even if the student didn’t want it. The Obama era Title IX was a push in the right direction, the changes made by Betsy DeVos are anti-student and anti-survivor.”

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Other proposed changes that appeared in the document include exempting religious institutions from upholding Title IX, requiring that accusers undergo direct cross examination and giving schools the option to increase the burden of proof that needs to be shown in any given case.

Under current rules, schools abide by the “preponderance of evidence” standard when determining whether the accused is responsible for alleged misconduct. If adopted, the new rules would allow universities to adopt the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. This standard requires a higher caliber of evidence to be shown in order to find the accused responsible for their alleged actions.

Some students, like junior health science major Jamison Silva, had mixed feelings about the proposed changes. “I think [the accused] should be held accountable,” Silva said, although he later added that he believes that accusers should have to direct their complaints to outside law enforcement rather than school officials.

The Title IX office at Stony Brook University turned down repeated requests for comment and instead referred The Statesman to the information available on its website.

When asked how the proposed changes would affect Stony Brook, Director of Title IX and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator at Stony Brook, Marjorlie Leonard gave the following response via email.

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“As a SUNY school in NY, SBU complies with the requirements set forth in the NYS Enough is Enough law,” she wrote, referring to a state law that, among other things, requires all colleges in New York to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent and requires schools to report annual Title IX complaint data to state authorities. “Proposed changes are not yet laws. If and when they below laws, we will make sure that our policies and procedures are updated to reflect the changes.”

Survivor Advocate and Prevention Specialist for Title IX at Stony Brook, Samantha Winters, spoke about the proposed rule changes on the Sept. 10 episode of the Stony Brook News. “A lot of the time we think of these policies as just protecting one side versus the other,” Winters told reporter Tiffani Golding. “The idea is to make sure that all of these policies are protecting everyone in the sense that we want it to be considered equitable.”

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