New guidelines for sexual misconduct cases could come at UWF

By Rachel Witbracht
Staff writer

The process for handling sexual misconduct cases at the University of West Florida might be due for a change under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposed guidelines to Title IX cases.

According to UWF Title IX Coordinator Karen Rentz, federal law prohibits sex discrimination on college campuses. Rentz said there are roughly 60 Title IX cases per year at UWF, all of which she oversees.

Nationally, one-in- four college women report being victims of rape or attempted rape, according to oneinfourusa.org. Through the Title IX program, students report campus crimes like these, as well as dating violence and stalking, among others.

Title IX is not a new program; Congress passed the program and it was and signed by then-President Nixon in 1972 under a section of the Educational Amendments. Currently, Title IX provides colleges and universities with rules governing gender equality — ensuring that all students, male or female, have equal access to education.

The standard of proof required in sexual misconduct cases is the aspect within the program that is possible to change. Right now, the standard of proof is the “preponderance of evidence” standard. This standard requires that the evidence favor at least 51 percent of one side.

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, has made her first big decision since joining the presidential cabinet.

“A lot of these cases go off credibility,” Rentz said.

Under DeVos’ proposed provisions, the standard could shift to the “clear and convincing” standard. Rentz said that under that standard, there must be hard evidence, and not just a he-said-she- said scenario.

“The Office of Civil Rights is the agency that enforces Title IX,” Rentz said. In April 2011, the OCR presented a Dear Colleague Letter, which Rentz calls a “guidance letter,” to give schools a clearer path to approaching and investigating sexual misconduct claims.

“It was a fabulous thing, because people that were victims of sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus that weren’t getting attention, now got attention,” Rentz said. “It was a very positive aspect.”

The OCR published a new letter, denouncing the Obama-era regulation. It states, “accused students [are] denied fair process.”

“Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know guilt is not predetermined,” DeVos said. She also acknowledged that “the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” alluding to a presumption that accused students are faced with a guilty before innocent bias.

Tylor Williams, a senior majoring in criminal justice, said that he thinks DeVos’ intention are less than genuine.

“DeVos makes it clear that her political agenda and relationship with the President is more important than the livelihood of the students in America that she has sworn to serve,” Williams said.

Rentz said it may deter reporting of sexual misconduct cases, but, in conjunction with university, President Martha Saunders, has assured students that UWF is always going to do the right thing.

“When we were talking in the Spring about the new administration, [Saunders] stopped me mid-sentence and said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We’re still continuing forward with the direction we’re going,’” Rentz said.

Junior Olivia Kennedy disagrees with the proposed guidance.

“It’s already hard enough for victims to come forward. I feel like they’re never going to report these cases now,” Kennedy said.

DeVos has not yet concretely changed any Title IX provisions, but has announced that she is putting the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter under public comment, meaning she plans to take feedback from different institutions and private parties about the pros and cons of the guidance.

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