Yesterday, Charlottesville police held a press conference releasing the findings of their now-suspended investigation into the alleged gang rape of University student Jackie, whose story was depicted in a now-discredited article in Rolling Stone.
The findings of the investigation — that a gang rape did not occur at the fraternity in question on the night alleged — are simply one of many developments that have forced us as a school to reevaluate how we discuss and respond to sexual assault. With this in mind, we have taken a closer look at the regulations that guide many of these discussions — namely, Title IX. While our suggestions are by no means exhaustive, we have noted several areas that would benefit from reform.
A key issue with Title IX requirements is that they leave many decisions up to schools that should, in fact, be standardized. The need for standardization does not apply to all regulations within Title IX — but it definitely applies to regulations regarding due process. This need seems especially important given the existence of so many misunderstandings regarding sexual assault: according to FiveThirtyEight, despite acknowledging the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses nationwide, only 6 percent of U.S. college presidents believe sexual assault is a problem on their own campuses.
As these misunderstandings can contribute to haphazard ways of investigating and adjudicating sexual misconduct, we see standardization as a useful combatant to administrations’ misunderstandings about or aversion to properly handling such cases. In particular, we have two suggestions for a more standardized application of Title IX. According to a document produced by the U.S. Department of Education describing the requirements schools have under Title IX, “neither Title IX nor the [Dear Colleague Letter from the DOE] specifies who should conduct the investigation.” This is, quite obviously, problematic. Specifying who should conduct or oversee investigations would minimize the possibility for conflicts of interest — for, though Title IX suggests there should be no conflicts of interest, what constitutes a conflict of interest is inherently subjective. Specifying who should oversee investigations would also streamline the process, and make it easier to evaluate individual schools’ investigative practices.
The second suggestion is to specify in Title IX whether schools should allow complainants or defendants the representation of lawyers or advisers during proceedings. Currently, Title IX does not specify whether schools should allow them at any stage of the proceedings: according to the same document referenced above, it only mandates that “if the school permits one party” to have a lawyer or adviser, “it must do so equally for both parties.” We cannot speak to whether proceedings should or should not include legal advising — but the standardization of this rule across colleges would certainly be beneficial. Having different systems across colleges means the environment in which sexual misconduct is adjudicated is different in different places, which should not be the case.
There is much to be said for allowing schools to adjudicate these cases based on their own campus environments. Certainly, there is a difference between the culture at our University and the culture of a small liberal arts school — and these differences and our different administrative styles could and perhaps should have an impact on the way in which sexual misconduct is handled. But at least in the two areas described above, standardization is necessary in order to properly adjudicate cases, and in order to provide due process to both the complainant and the defendant.