By Kerry Hayes | Staff Writer

Title IX was written to make sure that there was equality across genders in all academic settings and academic opportunities. During her visit to George Mason University, Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that there are not enough protections for those accused of sexual misconduct as there are for victims. DeVos plans to develop a plan that would better balance the rights of both the victim and the accused. 

Dean Malcolm Smith has been an educator for a number of years, and has spent the past four years as Dean of Students at Salve Regina University. According to Smith, over the course of the past four years Salve Regina has complied with Title IX and improved its policies through administrative changes, investigative requirements, and mandatory training, and will continue to make changes to improve the ways in which it handles sexual misconduct. 

Many critics have viewed DeVos’s agenda as an attack on Title IX and detrimental to the protection of sexual assault victims. Still, there are many misconceptions on what Title IX is, and what it applies to. What many people fail to understand is that Title IX applies to universities, not individual students.  “Students can violate a sexual discrimination policy or a sexual misconduct policy or a sexual violence policy,” explains Dean Smith. “The media has talked about this so much that I think that people believe that universities hold students responsible for Title IX and that’s not the case.” Dean Smith explains that universities are held responsible for Title IX, and he believes that Salve Regina has a unique set of policies that uphold the values of the university as well as keep the university in compliance with Title IX. 

During the Obama administration, stipulations were put in place in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of Title IX and sexual assault on college campuses and how administrators should be dealing with such cases. In 2011, the Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter, which outlined these concerns. Dean Smith explained his beliefs that there have been both positive and negative outcomes from the 2011 “Dear Colleagues” letter.  

“I think that more universities are doing it the right way, and whether that’s because they believe in it or are forced to do it, I don’t particularly care,” says Dean Smith. “I think it’s good for our society and good for our students that they are doing it the right way.” However, Dean Smith said that there have also been reverse affects. “Some universities are so afraid of being fined by the Office of Civil Rights or being marred by the media that they don’t take sexual misconduct seriously,” says Dean Smith. “I think they have swung the pendulum too far and this has been proved by the court systems.”

He notes that in order to expedite the process, many universities have failed in ensuring due process rights to all students involved, which is detrimental to both the respondent and the accused student. “I know that there is nothing in the regulations that came from the Office of Civil Rights out of the Obama administration that tells universities to violate peoples due process. Nothing. You can uphold every regulation, every piece of significant guidance, and every piece of law, and still uphold due process.” Dean Smith said that inadvertently, the Trump administration has shown that these issues are both legal and emotional. 

Although many people are worried that this change in policy will change the ways in which college campuses ethically view sexual misconduct, Dean Smith is confident that Salve Regina, along with other universities, will continue to follow the guidance that came out of the 2011 “Dear Colleagues” letter. Dean Smith commented that the decision to roll back just means that the Office of Civil Rights is not at liberty to change and enforce policies.

By the constitution, the Office of Civil Rights should not be legislating. That has always been the duty of the GOP. “I have a hope, and I have a belief that our campuses, our communities, will still hold universities accountable to a high standard when it comes to sexual discrimination,” says Dean Smith. “I think university administrators will have a really hard time backing off of that position now that the groundwork has been laid.” 

Dean Smith said that he finds it “quite ironic” that the law that we are all talking about, when we talk about rape, specifically on college campuses, is a law that guarantees equal access to educational opportunities, not rape laws. “I don’t feel that the real true fix is on college campuses,” he says. Although he believes changes to sexual misconduct policies throughout universities are important, he believes that any true change to the ways in which society views sexually based crimes must come through to Department of Justice.

“I think that we’ve missed a boat. We’ve held a very small pocket of the population of the country in education accountable for something, thinking that was going to make it better. And perhaps in time, it will make it better for college bound women,” he says, “But what about the women who never go to college?” He believes that universities are going to try and continue to do it the right way, continue to hold people accountable, and continue to try to educate and create a safer community. “I hope that at the very least, if we continue to do that we can make a dent in this problem.” 

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