State legislators visit campus for Title IX panel

From left to right: Director of Equal Opportunity and Access Jamie Ball, Marsha Griffin from the Attorney General’s office, State Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and Call for Help Inc. confidential adviser Aeriel White speak at Tuesday night’s Title IX panel.

Local political officials came to campus Tuesday night to discuss sexual assault and potential changes to Title IX with the community.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and State Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, were joined by Jamie Ball, director of Equal Opportunity and Access/Title IX, Marsha Griffin from the Attorney General’s office and Aeriel White, a confidential adviser from Call for Help, Inc.

Title IX refers to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and Ball said the fundamentals of Title IX can be summed up in one sentence.

“No person in the United States shall be on the basis of sex: be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education activities receiving federal financial assistance,” Ball said.

Title IX applies to all aspects of the university, including admissions, athletics and how schools handle allegations of sexual assault.

However, Ball explained that some of the provisions in state law may come into conflict with proposed changes to Title IX regulation at the federal level if Betsy Devos’s proposed changes from 2018 were to take effect.

Ball said three changes proposed by Devos caused concern for herself and others associated with Title IX.

The first is a change to the school’s responsibility. According to Ball, the proposed changes would only make universities responsible for incidents that happen on campus, only and narrow the definition of sexual harassment. 

The second change is to the standard of evidence used for Title IX incidents. Currently, the EOA uses a preponderance of evidence standard — meaning the outcome is based on whether the incident was more likely than not to have occurred. 

Ball said her biggest concern with the proposed changes was the application of cross-examinations in Title IX cases. Currently, both the accuser and accused are allowed to pose questions to each other in a disputed incident, but the investigator in their case is the one who asks them — there is no direct confrontation between the two. 

“What the proposed regulation would require is that there would always be a hearing. So, a confrontational, adversarial type of situation where there would be questioning of each other, by attorneys potentially,” Ball said. “Being cynical here for a second, who’s got the attorney in that case? The [accused] typically. So the question becomes, ‘Could someone who is the complainant in a case need to lawyer up too?’ Maybe, because, you know, you want it to be a fair fight at that point.”

Ball said the university is not trying to hold trials for these incidents. Ball also said students have the option to go to the criminal court system, but the university’s system is different.

During a Q&A session after the panel, one attendee asked what would happen if the contradictory changes were put into effect. Ball said it would likely result in a lawsuit between the state and the federal government to clarify what the standard should be. 

During the panel, Stuart, who is a former mathematics instructor at SIUE, explained what it was like to see one of her students go through the process, and aftermath, of reporting a Title IX violation to the university.

“I had an experience teaching a student who was a victim and she was forced to see that person every day as she went through the process,” Stuart said. It’s really tough because the university makes those accommodations, but it’s her life that had to be uprooted and changed … I don’t know what the fix is for that, because there’s due process for people who are accused of things happening, and you have to make sure you follow that, but it was very difficult.”

According to the SIUE Police blotter, there were two reports of sexual assaults in the last week.

Stuart said the event was held to help Crowe and herself understand what the community thinks they could do to protect students on campus and to give students and community members a forum to discuss Betsy Devos’s proposed changes to Title IX enforcement.

“I taught at this university for quite a long time, I also taught at the high school and middle school for a long time. I know there’s the reported statistics and the real statistics — because so many incidents just don’t actually get reported,” Stuart said. 

Crowe said one of the things she learned early on as a former prosecutor was that sexual assault was a crime that could happen to anyone at any age at no fault of the victim. She also said most of the crimes she prosecuted in Madison County were not crimes perpetrated by strangers.

“I think that most of you in this room already know that,” Crowe said. “When we’re talking this kind of violence, usually it’s someone that you have met socially or know on a social level, especially in the kind of circumstances that you are all in here on campus.”

Crowe said one change she and Stuart could do to help college campuses have more accurate data about sexual assault on campus is to push for the Illinois Department of Education to create campus climate surveys that would go directly to the state.

Griffin spoke about the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, which passed in 2015.  

According to Griffin, the act requires schools to provide a trained confidential adviser to survivors of sexual violence; provide a clear written explanation of rights for survivors; define consent as freely given, something that can be revoked and is not dependent on a survivor’s dress, among other things; develop a comprehensive policy which covers sexual, domestic and dating violence; and provide an amnesty provision which allows students to report sexual violence without worrying about consequences from drug use or underage drinking.

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