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The Changing Ways Colleges Handle Sexual Assault
The Changing Ways Colleges Handle Sexual Assault

The Changing Ways Colleges Handle Sexual Assault

Story By Becca Day. Photo By Catie Welch

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 | Number of views (848)

Title IX is changing under President Donald Trump’s administration, however policy at Fort Lewis College will remain the same.


The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, under the Trump administration, sent a Dear Colleague Letter on Sept. 22 withdrawing some of the Title IX guidance sent under former president Barack Obama’s administration.


The new Dear Colleague Letter serves as more of a guidance on how to interpret Title IX and has not affected policy at FLC, Weiser said. It doesn’t force colleges and universities to change their policies, but allows them to do so if they choose, Molly Wieser, Title IX Coordinator at FLC said.


“The policy isn't changing but the feds are not necessarily going to come and enforce our policy,” Wieser said. “It’s up to our college.”


The DOE has historically issued guidance for schools regarding policies such as Title IX. One of the ways they do this is with Dear Colleague Letters, which a presidential administration sends in order to provide guidance on how to enforce policies, she said.


In 2011, the Obama administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter that established new standards for how schools should handle sexual misconduct cases, the new Dear Colleague Letter withdrawals this guidance, Wieser said.


One of the things Title IX deals with is sexual misconduct cases on college campuses, Wieser said.


“Title IX is a part of a federal statute that was passed in the early ‘70s, and what that statue was intended to do was put into the law that there can't be gender-based discrimination such that it keeps people from participating in an educational program,” Wieser said.


Colleges and universities have jurisdiction over misconduct on their campus, including sexual misconduct, Maura Doherty Demko, executive director of the Sexual Assault Services Organization in Durango, said.


One in four women and one in 17 men in Colorado are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, Demko said.


“We also know that about 40 percent actually come forward and report,” Demko said. “Many won't just because a lot of the burden is still on the victim as far as prosecuting and it isn't a simple process.”


Although policy at FLC will not change the Trump administration's policy regarding Title IX could potentially negatively impact students at FLC by making them feel more vulnerable to sexual assault and less protected, Wieser said.


It is clear that the Trump administration is less interested in supporting victims of sexual assault, Wieser said.


The current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has criticized Title IX policy under the Obama administration for failing to create a just system for victims of sexual assault and those accused of sexual assault.


DeVos has recommended the standard of evidence that should be used in cases of sexual assault should be clear and convincing, which is a higher standard than preponderance of the evidence, that FLC currently uses, Wieser said


“My worry with what secretary DeVos has done is that we're going to take steps backward, and victims are going to suffer because colleges don't think they have to respond to them now, and it creates a loophole for perpetrators to get away with sexual assault,” Demko said.


Despite this, Wieser has hope because the policy regarding sexual assault is layered and involves more than just Title IX and it will take a lot to reverse the ideals that were created during the Obama administration, she said.


“Things become culture as a result of policy, both federal policy and local policy,” Wieser said.


Wieser hopes that the standards established by the Obama administration’s have become normal and will be maintained by schools across the nation, she said.


At FLC if a student reports sexual misconduct they go through a grievance procedure, which is how the school handles all forms of misconduct, Wieser said.


Merkin Karr, a senior FLC student and leader of the on-campus group for survivors of sexual assault known as LOTUS, was a victim of sexual assault and has been through the grievance procedure at FLC, she said.


Karr said a grievance procedure can be a lengthy and painful process, but she thinks it’s a fair system, she said.


“I really am happy with Fort Lewis because not only do I feel like they heard me during the whole trial, but they also heard him,” Karr said.



Grievance Procedure

Sexual misconduct can be reported at fortlewis.edu/CARE or directly to Molly Wieser.


Once Wieser is informed of a sexual misconduct case, she will explain what options are available to the complainant and provide them with resources, she said.


Wieser will reach out to the involved parties to interview them and inform them not to contact each other or retaliate, she said.


After this Wieser will decide if there is enough reason to conduct an investigation, if so, both parties will receive notice that the case is beinging investigated, Wieser said.


Both parties are given the opportunity to give their account of what happened, she said.


The investigation will also include any witnesses’ account of the case and any relevant information regarding the case, Wieser said.


After the investigation is complete, Wieser will determine what sanctions are necessary, she said.


If the sanctions are severe, such as suspension or expulsion, either party can request the case go to a panel hearing, Wieser said.


The panel consists of people who sit on FLC’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Committee, who are trained to conduct hearings in an unbiased and just manner.  


The hearing panel will go through the findings of the investigation process again and decide what sanctions should be given, Wieser said.


The panel will decide upon sanctions and after that, both parties have the option to appeal the sanctions, she said.


An appeal is only valid if there has been a procedural error, bias, or a discovery of more evidence regarding the case.


If this happens, then the case will go to the vice president of student affairs who will make a final decision.


Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault

If you wish to report sexual assault, please go to fortlewis.edu/CARE or call the SASO 24 hour hotline at 970-247-5400. If you wish to join LOTUS, the on-campus support group for survivors of sexual assault, contact Merkin Karr at mmkarr@fortlewis.edu.


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