DeVos’s Proposed Title IX Changes Could Affect Dickinson Systems

Sarah Manderbach ’22, Staff Writer

Revisions to the Title IX policy proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will lead to a “tricky” change in how Dickinson College handles cases of sexual harassment and assault, according to Katharina Matic, Dickinson’s Title IX coordinator. 

The New York Times released an article at the end of August, “New U.S. Sexual Misconduct Rules Bolster Rights of Accused and Protect Colleges,” and stated that DeVos is working on policies regarding campus student misconduct that will “bolster the rights of students accused of assault, harassment or rape…” The article said that the definition of sexual harassment will be narrowed to: “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.”

Some of the other reforms that may be passed include “holding schools accountable only for formal complaints filed through proper authorities,” allowing victims and the accused to request evidence from and cross-examine each other and requiring the accused be treated as innocent until proven guilty. 

Matic said Dickinson’s process for handling formal complaints will be substantially impacted. “It kind of puts us in this situation where we have to [handle the complaint] by a certain time. Institutions will have to move forward with a formal investigation when a complainant makes that request, and the complainant will have to put it in writing,” she explained.

Matic said that in DeVos’ draft, if a student signs off on an informal complaint but wishes to change it to formal, they cannot modify it later. This was not previously the case. “For victims,” Matic said, “things may change over time. I don’t know how institutions will deal with that nationally, but it will definitely be a tricky thing for us.”

Another revision to Title IX is that there will no longer be a definition of what a “hostile environment” is for a victim. Matic said she disagrees with this decision. There “must be a way to assess what is a hostile environment,” she said. 

Dickinson handles this, Matic said, by “look[ing] at the allegation or conduct as well as the level of severity of the incident.” 

Matic said “I’m working with other Title IX coordinators through the PCLA [Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts] and we are all coming together and we’re looking at a lot of information, much of which I don’t know if I was that surprised [by].”

Matic said “the true goals for me are the values of being fair to both parties, thinking equitably and being as transparent as possible. After reading through the draft three times now, I think that much of the draft-proposed regulations has those values.”