A group of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students have pushed campus leaders to improve the Title IX office after their personal experience reporting sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Dear UNL campaign they’ve spearheaded has presented an 11-page list of demands to university officials, including Chancellor Ronnie Green, to reform the reporting and adjudication process in a manner that “prioritizes student and survivor feedback.”
They bring numerous ideas worth discussing further and several proposals designed to streamline a difficult process and inform students of their rights. We, as a country, still need to have more dialogue on sexual assault, as the #MeToo movement has illustrated.
But the proper steps forward are far murkier when it comes to dealing with such instances on campus. Uncertainty at the federal level, with the present administration undoing the previous one’s landmark rule, has trickled down to leave colleges in a bind, knowing that standards could change at any minute.
This constant will-it or won’t-it harms students and leaves them unaware of their rights and could dissuade reporting of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Victims mustn’t be made to feel voiceless – especially as they wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn.
UNL is caught in a pickle. A university spokeswoman said the campus is in “an information-gathering stage” as it awaits federal changes to Title IX.
The previous directive issued in 2011 by the Obama administration was rescinded in 2017 by Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s secretary of education. Her office’s rule changes are expected to be announced later this year, though they’ll no doubt face legal challenges that could last for years.
By the time the pertinent cases are solved, another president could be in office – and that person’s secretary of education could scrap DeVos’ guidance and replace it with another document that invites similar lawsuits.
This constant yo-yoing leaves federal guidelines for this vital topic in a seemingly perpetual state of flux. That ambiguity hurts accusers and the accused, both of whom deserve access to due process.
However, despite this uncertainty, students and faculty will no doubt encounter situations that will prompt someone to file a complaint with the Title IX office. As such, UNL officials must do everything in their power to ensure the complainants feel heard, without being re-traumatized, while the university addresses these incidents as a new rule is being written.
In the meantime, Nebraska’s flagship public university shouldn’t miss the opportunity to study changes that could improve the reporting and investigation process.
Though the ball remains in the feds’ court, as they’re the ones who scrapped the previous guidelines, college campuses must continue to be responsive to claims of Title IX violations. Delays will only further muddy the waters on a difficult topic.