“Honestly, it’s really complicated,” said Patrick Cassidy, a senior equity specialist at the Office of Institutional Equity at the University of Notre Dame, about the changes to federal Title IX Regulations implemented in August 2020. The procedures and requirements regarding filing and seeing through complaints have been altered. On March 30, a Town Hall meeting that encompassed Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College was live streamed in the effort of explaining these changes to the tri-campus community.
After some brief introductions, the meeting began with a content warning acknowledging the sensitive nature of the topics being covered and a list of resources for any individuals feeling distressed linked in the video description. Title IX refers to the protocols set in place to protect individuals from discrimination based on sex in any education program that recieves federal funding. Recent updates to this amendment have caused changes in two major categories. The Town Hall reported these content areas to be the scope of Title IX and the procedural changes that govern Title IX complaints.
There are three main points that are critical for students' current understanding of the regulations. First, a formal complaint must be filed by the complainant or Title IX Coordinator, meaning that an outside party cannot file on the behalf of someone else. Second, all evidence and testimony is subject to cross examination. This includes anything provided by any of the parties or witnesses involved in the case. Third is the limitation of one advisor and/or resource coordinator in use for an individual at a time.
One of the major procedural changes comes from a change of definition of the term sexual harassment. What was once defined as any unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive that it denies them equal opportunity to education has narrowed to become conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” Although this new definition is limiting, Michael Colonma, a senior equity specialist at Notre Dame, said that “the Notre Dame policy allows something that even if the conduct was severe but not necessarily pervasive or objectively offensive it can be still dealt with under the same procedures.” Even though the federal regulations narrowed, the university is committed to addressing all incidences of concerning behavior.
Along with being the one to file the complaint, complainants must also participate in the hearing. Furthermore, “regulatory” alternative resolution can be a way forward for those involved, but a formal complaint is still required to be filed. Alternative resolution refers to a process in which the respondent acknowledges the harm they caused and accepts responsibility for repairing that harm. Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Amber Monroe, describes it as a process that “does understand the harm but we’re not trying to determine whether or not there is a policy violation.” It is a more educationally based way for parties to move forward.
The changes to Title IX make this a highly elaborate process focused intensely on elements of due process. However, it is important to note that when it comes to things like parietals and alcohol use, students are given immunity. The goal is for those involved to create as clear a picture as possible and with that, honest disclosure is necessary. The question was posed from an audience member if the same immunities would extend to the breaking of COVID-19 protocols, and, again, the goal of getting a full picture was stressed over any desire to inflict additional punishments.
Mandatory reporters include all faculty and staff except for those with dedicated confidentiality in the UCC, UHS and certain Campus Ministries positions. There are a number of resources available to all members of the tri-campus community to help navigate and understand the processes involved with Title IX complaints. These resources include a memorandum of understanding, the committee on sexual assault prevention (CSAP), Take Back the Night (TBTN), and the Family Justice Center (FJC).